Although Inter may currently be sitting only four points behind Juventus in the Serie A table, and a title challenge may appear to be alive, things are far from rosey at San Siro.
Antonio Conte is up to his usual tricks of complaining, whinging, whining, lamenting – and just about every verb which could describe a bitter man, struggling to deal with his own deficiencies.
Recent results have all-but killed Inter’s realistic Scudetto hopes, while talismanic striker Lautaro Martinez has taken his eye off the ball amid rumours linking the Argentine with a move to Barcelona in the summer.
One man who has kept his head down, ignored the noise and got on with his job however, is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker joined I Nerazzurri in the summer in order to win trophies, and although things haven’t quite gone to plan this year, it’s certainly not down to the forward’s lack of trying.
Lukaku’s departure from Manchester United in 2019 was met with derision and crowing – from those who only follow the Premier League and have no interest in Serie A, anyway. He couldn’t cut it in the greatest league in the world anymore, and his punishment was being sent to the football graveyard that is Italy. And he can’t control a ball.
Well, that just ain’t true now, is it? The 27-year-old suffered miserably in his final year at Old Trafford, as the club struggled to cling onto any form of identity, and he was singled out as a cause for the rest of the team’s failings.
He was the scapegoat. A move away from England was best for all parties, and so it has come to pass. Man Utd are happier without him, Inter are much improved with him, and Lukaku is enjoying his football again.
The fitness and weight issues have disappeared. Lukaku looks leaner, meaner and stronger than ever before, and he’s missed only two league games through injury this season. When he has played, he’s been devastatingly good.
Lukaku has clearly been working on his overall game, offering so much to help out his teammates, and benefitting from his in-sync connection with Martinez at the top of the pitch. His touch looks better, too. It’s in the penalty area where he has continued to do the usual damage, though.
The former Chelsea man had managed 21 goals in the 33 games prior to Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Genoa, and he played his part once more against the strugglers, starting and ending the scoring in great style. It was his individual strike in the final minute of the match that really hammered home the Lukaku of old is back for good – with more strings to his bow.
Pealing wide on a swift counter-attack, the forward bounded towards goal, dropped his shoulder, slipped outside the first defender, before stepping inside the next and curling a precise finish into the bottom corner. Simply glorious.
In doing so, Lukaku became the first player to score 23 Serie A goals in their debut season with Inter since a certain Ronaldo, back in 1998. The quality of the defenders may be lower in Italy nowadays, but the point still stands.
This man loves scoring, and whether Martinez stays or departs San Siro this summer, I Nerazzurri’s future in front of goal is in very safe hands. To anyone who wrote him off, just watch – Lukaku is back and better than ever.