Romelu Lukaku has come under intense scrutiny after amassing just seven touches during Chelsea’s win at Crystal Palace over the weekend.
Opta sensationally revealed that Lukaku broke the record for the fewest number of touches for a player who featured in 90 minutes of a Premier League game since the data was first collected in 2003/04.
The first-half at Selhurst Park was particularly quiet for Chelsea‘s record signing as he amassed just two touches – one of which came from kick-off – for a worrying statistic that spread like wildfire across Twitter.
Lukaku vs Crystal Palace
However, it’s important to do some zooming out and unpacking when it comes to these viral statistics because Lukaku isn’t completely at fault in the way that some people are making out.
The undoubtedly world-class striker does, after all, feel like a square peg in a round hole right now with Thomas Tuchel’s tactics at Stamford Bridge not necessarily meshing with Lukaku’s best attributes.
Plus, there are misconceptions surrounding the ‘touches’ statistic in that Lukaku may well have physically made contact with the ball more than the seven times attributed to him.
Putting Lukaku’s stats into context
Receiving a pass, dribbling with the ball and then moving it on in one continuous movement would be considered as a single touch in the eyes of statistics, so it’s important to note that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.
Nevertheless, all that being said, there’s no denying that Lukaku’s output in south London wasn’t ideal and you can forgive Chelsea fans for expecting more from their £97.5-million purchase.
As such, here at GIVEMESPORT, we wanted to do some more digging on the whole ‘seven touches’ thing by assessing just how Lukaku factors into the wider Premier League picture this season.
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Data: Touches per 90 minutes
To do that, we turned to the data gurus over at FBref and ranked every single Premier League player in the 2021/22 campaign by how many touches they averaged for each 90 minutes that they played.
To cut a long story short, Lukaku ended up in 498th place out of 518 players with an average of 27.1 touches for every 90 minutes that he spent on the pitch in 2021/22 Premier League games.
However, we still had some tidying up to do because there were inevitability some players near the bottom who had insanely low touch averages due to the fact that they had amassed only a few minutes on the pitch.
Fewest touches per 90 minutes
So, when we made the understandable cut-off point that only players who had racked up at least 90 minutes in the Premier League this season counted, Lukaku finished ninth-bottom for average touches per 90.
Interesting, right? Well, to further contextualise the narrative surrounding Lukaku’s touches for Chelsea, be sure to check out the players who are getting on the ball even less this season down below:
10. Yoane Wissa (Brentford) – 27.6 touches per 90
9. Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) – 27.1
8. Sead Kolasinac (Arsenal) – 27.0
7. David de Gea (Manchester United) – 26.8
6. Matej Vydra (Burnley) – 26.6
5. Asmir Begovic (Everton) – 25.0
4. Callum Wilson (Newcastle United) – 24.0
3. Teemu Pukki (Norwich City) – 23.4
2. Aaron Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion) – 20.0
- Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 19.9
It really does go to show that centre forwards, and attacking players generally, are those who touch the ball the least.
Plus, it illustrates that touching the ball infrequently isn’t automatically a terrible thing because Vardy averaging less than 20 touches across 16 games hasn’t stopped him from scoring nine goals.
Nevertheless, the statistics are still probably quite generous to Lukaku because Kolasinac and Begovic have only played a single 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, so you could argue for their exclusion.
Most touches per 90 minutes
But now that we’ve got you hooked on this statistical rollercoaster, we thought that it might be interesting to look at the Premier League stars at the other end of the spectrum with countless touches.
Once again, we’ll be cutting out the anomalies by leaving out players with less than 90 minutes of Premier League action this season, but otherwise you can check out the comprehensive top 10 below:
10. Ruben Dias (Manchester City) – 89.5 touches per 90
9. Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) – 90.6
8. Kyle Walker (Manchester City) – 92.7
7. Rodri (Manchester City) – 93.5
6. Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City) – 95.0
5. Joe Gomez (Liverpool) – 95.8
4. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – 97.1
3. Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool) – 97.1
2. Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) – 97.4
- Joao Cancelo (Manchester City) – 105.0
It’s almost like playing in defence or midfield for one of the Premier League’s best two clubs is the secret to racking up touches, isn’t it?
So, look, make of the statistics what you will because there are always manifold ways that you can interpret data with Lukaku’s numbers not necessarily being without controversy just as they’re not a complete indictment.
The simple fact of the matter is that you’re never going to get tonnes and tonnes of touches from the Belgian star, but it’s whether or not Chelsea can ensure that he makes the most of them that really counts.