Thomas Tuchel’s side get their Champions League campaign underway tonight, and one former Stamford Bridge star is tipping them to retain their trophy.
Romelu Lukaku can emulate Didier Drogba by firing Chelsea to Premier League and Champions League glory, according to former Stamford Bridge favourite Joe Cole.
The Belgian has made a superb start to life back in west London following his £98 million ($136m) transfer from Inter.
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Lukaku has scored three goals in three appearances so far, including two in Saturday’s win over Aston Villa, and on Tuesday night will make his first Champions League appearance for the Blues as they take on Zenit St Petersburg.
Is Lukaku the new Drogba?
Cole, speaking exclusively to Goal in his role as one of BT Sport’s lead Champions League pundits, compared Lukaku’s Chelsea role to that of Drogba, one of the club’s greatest ever strikers.
“For sure, they are similar,” he said. “It’s not just what he brings on the pitch, either. I think Lukaku has learned a lot from Didier in terms of his presence off the pitch. By all accounts he is a bit of a leader in the dressing room and that’s Didier.
“Didier was a born leader, a real man’s man. Everyone loved him. We talk about [John] Terry and [Frank] Lampard being leaders in that dressing room, but Drogba was every bit as much a leader as them.
“Lukaku is of that ilk. He’s got a little way to go before he can be put in that bracket, for me, but he’s certainly got the ability to get there.
“And he’s got a great mindset, a bit of fire in his belly because he wants to prove himself at Chelsea the second time around.”
‘He’s got everything’
Lukaku’s signing is seen as the final piece of the jigsaw, as far as Thomas Tuchel is concerned.
Chelsea were strong enough to become European champions without him, but Cole believes the presence of the new No.9 will move them up a level, and allow others, such as Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and the much-maligned Timo Werner to benefit too.
“You love it as an attacking midfielder or wide player, having someone like him,” he says. “He’s got everything. If you put a cross in from deep, he can win it and score from it. If you want to turn it round the corner he’s strong enough to hold it and good enough to lay it back to you, and if you’re under pressure and playing deep, you know you can play the ball forward and he will make something of it.
“His movement is good. He’s come back as the complete package. I’d love to have played with him, I can tell you!”
Are Chelsea Champions League favourites?
Chelsea begin their Champions League defence this evening, when they take on Russian champions Zenit at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel’s side arrive in good form, with 10 points from their opening four Premier League matches and only one goal conceded. They are, naturally, among the bookmakers’ favourites for the competition, despite the fact that, in the Champions League era, only Real Madrid have ever successfully retained the trophy.
“They’re capable, but it’s hard to say they definitely will,” says Cole. “There’s so much quality, and especially with the Premier League sides.
“You can make a case that Chelsea are favourites, but I honestly think you can make a case for all four.”
Cole, however, says he is enthused by Chelsea’s prospects this season.
“I love the business they have done,” he says. “What Tuchel has done last season, the squad looked so strong anyway, but you’ve got to give credit to Marina [Granovskaia, the Blues’ chief executive] and the team for the way they’ve gone out and got the right players in.
“They’ve made a profit, and signed one of the top three centre-forwards in the world in Lukaku. That’s incredible.
“The academy is flourishing. They’re sending out Conor Gallagher, Tino Anjorin and Billy Gilmour on loan! Do you know what I mean?! Those three players walk into most Premier League sides.
“As an ex-player, it’s the easiest thing in the world to talk about Chelsea right now. They are flying. Even the image of the club has changed, the business model is working, they’re winning trophies and everyone is happy and content.
“A lot of people are doing a lot of good things at the club.”