It seems Romelu Lukaku cannot yet escape the spectre of Juventus.
A month after sealing his return from Italy back to the Premier League, the Chelsea striker finds himself up once more against a familiar, and formidable foe when Thomas Tuchel’s side head to Turin for their second Champions League game of the season.
There is no doubting that the 28-year-old put his time at Inter to good use, demonstrating his pedigree in front of goal, reaching ‘another level’ in his own words as he lifted his first league title since leaving Anderlecht as a teenager.
Romelu Lukaku will come up against a familiar foe for Chelsea in Turin on Wednesday night
For all his dominant displays and 47 goals over two campaigns, though, there was one opponent that appeared resistant to his charms.
In five matches against the Old Lady in all competitions, Lukaku could point to just one victory, and one goal – from the penalty spot. That number is one in six throughout his career when Manchester United’s 1-0 group stage defeat at Old Trafford in 2018 is included.
For all his versatility, Juventus – whether under Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri or Andrea Pirlo – found an answer to the striker’s powers.
While the opposition managers may not have been a constant, two of the most recognisable centre-backs in world football have been.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci proved in the summer that, at the ages of 37 and 34 respectively, they are still capable of shutting out the best attackers in Europe.
The Belgium forward has spent the last two seasons battling with Juventus in Serie A
Details of Lukaku’s six appearances against Juventus to date, provided by Sofascore
Harry Kane found this out to his detriment at this summer’s Euro 2020 final. Lukaku had previously experienced it first hand in the quarter-finals.
Once again, a penalty proved the striker’s only riposte as Belgium were beaten 2-1 in Munich by the eventual champions.
It was a match that saw Roberto Martinez’s side become over-reliant on their No 9 and his hold-up play, with balls long into Lukaku failing to provide a platform. The presence of Bonucci and Chiellini saw to that, their experience helping the Azzurri to cope with the one-dimensional threat.
It does appear that in the pair, Juventus and Italy have the perfect antidote to the Chelsea forward’s fierce threat.
The duo, rather than possessing similar attributes, complement each other with their different approaches to the game.
Chiellini is a wily operator who enjoys the physical side of the game – nipping at the ankles of opponents and letting them know he’s present.
Bonucci is more calculated, priding himself in his ability to read a situation and being one step ahead of the attack. He is someone who thinks deeply about the game. It is no wonder Pep Guardiola has him down as one of his favourite players.
In Leonardo Bonucci (left) and Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus possess two of world’s top defenders
Between them they can deal with most threats in world football. In Lukaku’s six appearances against Juventus, at least one of the pair has started on five occasions.
By quirk of fate, both did start on the only occasion the Belgium striker has tasted victory against Bianconeri – a 2-0 victory for Inter in January. It also provided a template on just how Lukaku’s influence can give his team an edge, even if he is not sticking the ball in the back of the net himself.
Chiellini was the man looking to pay the striker the most attention at the San Siro, getting tight to Inter’s frontman, but he was still able to turn and get his side moving forward. The focus on the Lukaku threat was also key in the second goal, Nicolo Barrella’s run from deep went untracked, while forward’s movement across the pitch forced Chiellini to track him and created a huge space for the midfielder to run into.
Romelu Lukaku played a key role in Inter’s victory in January – stats provided by Sofascore
Whether the same duo are tasked once more with looking after him remains to be seen. Chiellini has been used sparingly this season, with Allegri looking to integrate Mathias de Ligt into the backline alongside Bonucci, with a view to cementing the captain’s long-term replacement sooner rather than later.
That has not been without its issues, with Juventus starting the season poorly with back-to-back defeats to Empoli and Napoli.
While they have found their feet, issues at the back still exist. They have conceded 10 times in their opening six matches in Serie A. No side in the top half have conceded more.
In six appearances against Juventus, Luakaku has only netted once – a penalty back in May
Lukaku has previously been forced to deal with the criticism of not delivering in big games. At Chelsea this season, his ability to affect the game was hampered by Reece James’ red card, but Saturday’s defeat by Manchester City did bring up some questions surrounding his display.
Against Juventus, though, Lukaku does have a ready-made opportunity to bounce back. His supporting cast at Chelsea is a step up from Inter, and are blessed with the kind of pace both Bonucci and Chiellini would struggle with, especially in the cases of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
Just as it was in Milan in January, it may be that Lukaku’s own chances in front of goal are sacrificed for the benefit of the team. But fans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking he needs to score to prove his worth in Turin.
While Lukaku failed to stamp his authority against Man City, he may have more luck midweek