Belfast Telegraph

Everton's Martinez hails Lukaku's rapid progress as Toffees prepare for Palace clash

By Tim Rich

When Chelsea carry out the full inquest into their disintegration, it is likely some of the most damning phrases will be reserved for their transfer policy under Jose Mourinho.

This is the club that imagined Kevin de Bruyne was surplus to requirements and thought his fellow Belgian Romelu Lukaku was not quite good enough.

While De Bruyne seems Jamie Vardy's only serious rival for the title of Footballer of the Year, Lukaku goes into tonight's meeting with Crystal Palace having scored six times in Everton's last five matches.

When his manager, Roberto Martinez, remarked that his fitness record gives Lukaku an edge over Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge (another Chelsea striker who got away) it is not just managerial hyperbole.

Lukaku is, at 22, younger than either, he averages a goal every other game for Everton and, unlike the other two, he stays fit. This season Lukaku, a striker Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew compares to Didier Drogba, has missed a bare 41 minutes of football.

"Any player who can stay fit gives you an incredible base to work on," said Martinez. "Any foreign player when he arrives in the Premier League has to adapt to the physicality. For a player like him, with his frame, I don't think he had the opportunity to play enough 90 minutes.

"When he was at West Brom he had an incredible scoring ratio (17 goals in 20 league appearances) but off the top of my head I think he completed a full 90 minutes seven times.

"For a young player, until you get the full 90 minutes without losing power and pace in every action, it's a long process. Now it is very rare you don't see him finish the last 10 minutes with the same power, pace and control."

One consequence of Chelsea's downfall is that there is likely to be a Champions League place for someone outside English football's big four. Everton and Palace are among the contenders.

Everton's traditional weakness in the Premier League has always been the lack of a high-class centre-forward. When the club last qualified for the Champions League a decade ago, Tim Cahill was their leading scorer with 11.

But in Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and John Stones, Martinez has a core of young players around which to build for the long term.

Barcelona have a buy-back option on Deulofeu which they can exercise next summer for €9m, though it is unlikely the 21-year-old would want to swap a central role at Goodison Park for a walk-on part at the Nou Camp. Martinez said the player would have "a massive say" on any move.

"It only operates for 15 days in the summer transfer window," said Martinez. "We could send him on holiday for those 15 days."

The Toffees have a two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final against Manchester City ahead but the manager has ordered full focus on their league form.

"We want to play exciting and attacking football that our fans enjoy and love and win," he said.

"It is vital the attention goes solely into the Premier League games as December is the most significant month."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph