Few fixtures suffer from the lack of fans more than the Milan derby, especially this latest iteration. A split stadium, 80,000 fans baying for blood and justice, tifos galore, all in service to a top of the table contest, it would have been an epic occasion. Inter Milan came into this leading Serie A by one point over their city rivals AC Milan, so there couldn’t have been more riding on it.
And within five minutes, it was pretty much over. That’s because Romelu Lukaku plays for Inter, and not Milan. It was that early that he got loose on a counter and did this:
His first attempt at a pass was blocked, and the marking for his eventual cross was about as passionate as taking a Biology test hungover, but the cross was still inch-perfect. And the way Lukaku dusted off Alessio Romagnoli at midfield was basically insulting.
To wrap up the game, Lukaku decided to grind Romagnoli’s innards some more:
Both of these runs—the sheer speed, forcefulness, and decisevness—recall Ronaldo in his prime (the original, Brazilian one, not the rape-y one). It feels as if when Lukaku gets the ball at his feet and room in front of him, it’s certain doom. Lukaku at full bore is simply unplayable right now. That last finish is simply cruel in its authority.
(In between those two goals, Inter scored their second on this team-wide Botticelli)
The goal was Lukaku’s 17th of the season, which leads Serie A and is the second-highest across Europe’s five top leagues behind Robert Lewandowski’s galactic 28. Lukaku also added his fifth assist, and his 22 “goal-involvements” are fourth across the continent behind Lewandowski, Bruno Fernandes, and Harry Kane, and ties him with Kylian Mbappe, who staked his claim for best forward in the world earlier this week.
Lukaku has always threatened this kind of form. The tools have been there since he was an underused, teenage Chelsea prospect — the strength, the speed, the eye for goal. It was only four years ago he poured in 25 goals and six assists for Everton at just 23. Two good-but-not-superlative years with Manchester United caused him to lose his sheen a bit, but how much of that was Jose Mourinho-inspired malaise? United are currently trotting out the ancient Edison Cavani and the definition of inconsistency that is Anthony Martial at center-forward these days. What might they look like with Lukaku?
None of that matters now. Lukaku has truly found a home in Italy, as this will be his second-straight 20+-goal season. And this isn’t a mirage or the result of just a heater. Lukaku is second in the league in expected-goals (behind THE ZLATAN) and top-15 in expected-assists. He’s got career-highs in shots per 90, shots on target per 90, and his goals-per shots on target.
His passing is arcing up in the same way, as he’s averaging more key passes and passes into the penalty area per game, which is boosting his assist totals. Lukaku spear-heading a Belgian attack this summer at Euro 2020(1) ahead of Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and some combination of the other 17 obscenely talented midfielders they have is a terrifying thought for the rest of Europe, and should place Belgium as solid second-favorites behind France (if their manager, Roberto Martinez, wasn’t a Grade-A moron, but we’ll get to that at a later date).
But there’s a Serie A title to secure first, which Inter now have a solid grip on, if not a full camel clutch. The win puts them four ahead of Milan and ten ahead of everyone else. The two Milan sides won’t play again this season, so the “Rossoneri” will have to hope that other teams can beat the “Nerazzurri” for them. Juventus still have two games in hand, but even winning those would still see them seven points back of Inter. Inter also don’t have any European commitments to distract them (though Juventus may soon join them on the sidelines in European competition).
With Lukaku playing like this, the rest of the Serie A can probably forget it.