Because of what happened in this fixture last season, it was expected that Romelu Lukaku would be given a wide-forward role by Roberto Martinez this evening - and as his touch map below (via Squawka) shows, the vast majority of the Belgian’s involvement was in that right-sided channel.
Tonight was a really good example of what Lukaku does well, but also of where in his game the naivety still lurks.
He’s at his best when given the opportunity to move into space and towards goal. As we all saw in the build-up to Everton’s second this evening, he is an enormous asset with the ball at his feet and his habit of driving directly at the box from deep makes him lethal on the counter-attack.
Playing him wide is an interesting choice, because superficially it would seem to be a misuse of his goal-scoring attributes. What Martinez has identified though, is that not only does Lukaku pose a threat with his pace in that area and look very comfortable cutting-in towards the penalty-box, but using him in that role typically matches him up with a full-back rather than a centre-half. Think of the size of the average left-back in this division and think of what Romelu Lukaku looks like.
Clearly that’s an enormous physical mismatch.
Lukaku’s close control isn’t yet particularly culture and he doesn’t receive or distribute the ball particularly well in congested areas of the pitch and so, while Martinez’s use of him on the right suits Everton’s purpose very well, it could actually be seen partly as an attempt to mask his deficiencies. It works in everybody’s best interests: Lukaku has the opportunity to play in the spaces that he enjoys so much against defenders who are not physically equipped to handle him and Everton employ a more economical, technique-based player as almost a False Nine (Steven Naismith).
Expect that to be the norm this season when Everton play the better sides in this division and conversely, as he was against Leicester last weekend, assume he’ll be given a more central role against more forgiving opponents or during games in which offensive ball-retention isn’t quite as important.