Soccer-Lukaku steps up another level to fire Inter's title run


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - Spezia v Inter Milan - Stadio Dino Manuzzi, La Spezia, Italy - April 21, 2021 Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Not long after Inter Milan’s Serie A title win was confirmed on Sunday, Romelu Lukaku was filmed singing at the top of his voice and waving a black-and-blue shirt from the window of a car.

The Belgian striker could not resist the temptation to join in with the celebrations as fans flooded the streets after the Nerazzurri had ended an 11-year wait to be crowned Italian champions.

Some fans couldn’t believe their eyes as they saw a jubilant Lukaku go past, the man whose goals, assists and leadership were the driving force behind Inter’s 19th title.

"When Lukaku sets off from halfway with the ball at his feet, you ask yourself what will happen and 90% of the time it’s what you hoped for," former Inter owner Massimo Moratti told Gazzetta dello Sport.

It is hard to argue with his assessment. Lukaku has scored 21 league goals this season, while his assist against Crotone on Saturday made him the first player to produce at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single Serie A season since Opta began collecting data in 2004-05.

"He is now a top player. Speaking of pure strikers in the world, only Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland are at his level," former Inter striker Ivan Zamorano said.

Lukaku’s improvement under coach Antonio Conte since his club record 80 million euro move from Manchester United in August 2019 has been remarkable.

"The most difficult transfer negotiation was certainly Lukaku, but Conte was convinced that he would make a big difference and he was right," CEO Giuseppe Marotta told Sky Italia.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT

Lukaku made an immediate impact. He changed diet, lost weight and gained form, scoring 10 goals in his first 13 Serie A games to equal Istvan Nyers's 71-year-old record for the best start to a debut season at Inter.

He quickly struck up an understanding with strike partner Lautaro Martinez and they fired Conte’s side to runners-up finishes in the Europa League and Serie A.

Lukaku ended his debut season with 34 goals in all competitions, equalling the record of Brazilian great Ronaldo at Inter in 1997-98.

Lukaku made another explosive start to this campaign, scoring 11 goals in his opening 12 league games, and played a starring role during key moments in Inter’s title run.

The 27-year-old was praised for his leadership in November, when he was left exasperated despite scoring two and assisting two as Inter came from behind to beat Torino.

"Honestly, we are not a great team yet if we put ourselves in difficulty like this," he said.

When the big moments came, Lukaku delivered. He scored two and set one up in a 3-1 win at Lazio in February that took Inter above neighbours AC Milan and top for the first time this season.

But his performance in the following week's top-of-the-table Milan Derby clash was even more memorable, as he set up Martinez for the opener before sprinting half the length of the pitch to fire home Inter's third.

"Italy has brought me to another level. I have never felt this strong. I have reached another level, physically and mentally," Lukaku said.

He was not exaggerating.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Ed Osmond)

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