STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan): It’s been a week and a season of second chances for Romelu Lukaku at Inter. In a disappointing and frustrating campaign having been afforded a second chance by many Nerazzurri fans after his loan return from Chelsea, that is very much the theme surrounding the Belgian forward at the moment.
As many as 189 days passed between Lukaku’s two Serie A goals this season. On his second debut for the club, as Inter opened the season away at Lecce back in August, he scored inside two minutes and it really felt as though he was ready to pick up where he had left off a year earlier in driving what was then Antonio Conte’s side to their first Serie A title in over a decade. He assisted in his second game of the season against Spezia, and it looked like the Big Rom that Inter fans had grown to love was back in business.
But it wasn’t to be. Injuries have plagued his season and he has been lacking match fitness and sharpness whenever he’s been on the pitch, which was seen at the 2022 World Cup with Belgium as well. After that Spezia game, he played 69 minutes against Lazio, then missed eight matches through injury. A 22-minute cameo against Sampdoria was all he could manage before missing three more through injury to go into the World Cup break.
It wouldn’t have been a great surprise to see Roberto Martinez leave him to recover in Milan, but he didn’t, and that decision did Lukaku no good. The forward missed each of Belgium’s three group games, before playing 27 minutes against the Netherlands in the knockout rounds and having one of the worst performances of his impressive career. Given the lack of football he’d had leading up to that point, it’s not hard to see why he might have been lacking a bit of sharpness in front of goal.
Not all Inter fans were entirely pleased to see Lukaku return to the Meazza last summer, as a few were deeply hurt by his move to Chelsea a year earlier. Soon, and helped by having a hand in two goals in his first two games back, those stances started to soften. While his decision to leave the club hasn’t been entirely forgotten, there is a lot more goodwill and patience with Lukaku from most on the blue side of Milan.
Just as he needed Inter fans to give him a second chance, his return to scoring after 189 days also required that same luxury – and more than a stroke of luck. Against Udinese, Lukaku stepped up as Inter were awarded a penalty. He took a poor spot kick that was saved, but was given the chance to retake it as defending players had encroached. On the second attempt, he scored.
How highly his teammates still rate him was clear on Wednesday when he came on against Porto in the Champions League. There was a buzz around the Meazza when he replaced a quiet Edin Dzeko, and he didn’t take long to get involved, with everybody seeking him as early as possible.
Lukaku would have had an assist if Lautaro Martinez were an inch or two taller, but a brilliantly teasing ball across the six-yard box just evaded the Argentine, and it was really starting to feel like Inter would end the night frustrated.
Then, though, came his moment. After having seen two or three crosses go just over his head and fall onto, of all people, Nicolo Barella’s, a ball from the right landed perfectly onto Lukaku’s. He met it well, but his effort came back off the post. The Meazza gasped as the ball fell kindly back into his path and he made no mistake in rifling past Diogo Costa at the second attempt.
“It was striker’s luck,” Lukaku told BT Sport after the game with a laugh as Patrick Kendrick asked for similarities between his goals against Porto and Inter, and the relief on his face was plain to see.
After a season of nothing but misfortune, Lukaku has finally had the bit of luck that his off-field work has deserved. Now with a couple of goals to his name in quick succession, Simone Inzaghi and Inter will be hoping that their patience and trust in the Belgian is rewarded.