How does Chelsea star Lukaku compare to Liverpool trio Salah, Mane and Firmino?

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One of the greatest achievements Jurgen Klopp will probably reflect upon at Liverpool is how he formed his attack by buying three players from clubs lacking their own stature and turned them into global superstars.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were signed from Roma, Southampton and Hoffenheim but have become the players to set the benchmark for end product in the Premier League in recent years.

Egyptian Salah has been among the top five goalscorers in each of the last three top-flight seasons and is now just two away from 100 Premier League goals, 96 of which have come as a Liverpool player.

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Mane, meanwhile, has netted 98 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, and while Firmino may not have the goalscoring return of his team-mates, he has proved a vital cog in a team that has won the Premier League and Champions League under Klopp.

Mane and Salah will likely face a new challenger for the Golden Boot this season in the form of Romelu Lukaku, after he completed a return to Chelsea in a £97.5million move from Inter Milan earlier this month.

The Belgium striker is looking to help the Blues mount a title challenge this term and appears to be in imperious form, bullying Arsenal’s defence as he opened his account in the 2-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

The Liverpool trio and their Belgian counterpart will now meet at Anfield in the late Premier League kick-off on Saturday.

But how did Lukaku fare in comparison to the Liverpool forwards during the time he spent in Serie A? Sportsmail crunches the numbers ahead of a mouth-watering clash…

How good was Lukaku in Serie A?

The Lukaku who left Manchester United for Inter Milan in the summer of 2019 for £75m was a striker who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was happy to let go of.

Lukaku had been fined for missing United training and after not feeling the same confidence from the Norwegian as he did from Jose Mourinho, his mind was made up.

But in Italy, his body also underwent an incredible transformation. ‘When I joined Inter we did an analysis of my body and a lot has changed,’ he said.

‘I eat a lot of salad and fish, which has a great effect on me. I take carnitine, it makes me feel good, and I take vitamins.

‘I eat salad for lunch, a lot of chicken breast, shirataki noodles. Since following this lifestyle I feel better on the pitch, more responsive and faster. I love sweet potatoes and black rice, I don’t eat pasta. I have reached another level, physically and mentally.’

He also reached new heights in terms of goalscoring too. The Belgium international scored just 12 Premier League goals in 32 appearances during his final season at Old Trafford, and 15 overall.

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Serie A, however, saw a Lukaku who netted on 23 and 24 occasions in his respective campaigns in Italy.

He never won the Capocannoniere – Ciro Immobile in 2019-20 and Cristiano Ronaldo in both years scored more – but it was clear this was not the striker who left Old Trafford despondent and rather dejected.

A deeper look into the statistics provided by Opta and Sofascore demonstrate the extent to which Lukaku improved his game in Italy in comparison to his final season in the Premier League.

To start out quite simply, in his final season at United, Lukaku failed to register a single top-flight assist.

That only minutely improved in his first season in Serie A, but he managed 11 last term to go along with his 24 goals, which helped lead the club to their first league title for 11 years.

Moreover, the striker was only averaging a Premier League goal every 177.5 minutes by the time his career at United came to an end.

He scored just eight of the 23 big chances created by his United team-mates in 2018-19, giving him a big-chance conversion rate of under 35 per cent, while his shot conversion rate was below 22 per cent.

Both seasons under Antonio Conte in Milan saw improvement in all of those areas. His minutes-per-goal ratio came down first to 130 and then 120 last term, and he scored 15 out of 31 and then 20 out of 39 big chances created for him.

That return saw his big-chance conversion rate rise to 48 per cent in 2019-20 and then increase by another three per cent in the following campaign. His overall shot conversion rate saw the smallest improvement, but it nevertheless demonstrated a man who had regained confidence.

He also appeared to regain the asset of breaking quickly and scoring from counter-attacks in Italy. He failed to even register a fast break in 2018-19 but scored three goals each in 2019-20 and 2020-21 from such situations.

Lukaku scored three braces in his last season in England before his Inter move. He doubled that figure in his first campaign in Italy and managed four in Conte’s final season as boss.

He was denied a second last weekend thanks to a wonderful save from his header from Bernd Leno, having swept home Reece James’ inviting low cross in the first half.

The data sample is of course too small to start comparing his return in Italy with what he is producing back in the Premier League, but if events in the London derby were anything to go by he looks up for the challenging of surpassing his Inter statistics.

How does his time at Inter compare with Liverpool’s pacesetters?

Klopp may not have even dreamed about the success that Salah, Mane and Firmino would enjoy at Liverpool before he signed them to rebuild the club’s status and get them back to winning silverware once more.

Last season, Salah became the first Liverpool player in the club’s history to score more than 20 goals in three consecutive Premier League campaigns.

It came after he broke the record for the most goals in a 38-game Premier League season, scoring 32 goals – his most prolific at Anfield – and winning the Golden Boot handsomely as a result in his debut season.

He shared the same accolade with Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19, but has failed to top the charts since.

That will ultimately remain an individual target this term but Lukaku is now another name to have tossed his hat into the ring.

And the Egypt star is the only one of Liverpool’s trio whose statistics really stand up to the Belgian. Salah finished just shy of Lukaku’s goal tally in both Serie A seasons, but still ended up with an impressive return of 19 and 22 Premier League strikes to his name.

Mane too finished a little way short in 2019-20, but a slide in form last season saw him end up with fewer than half the goals Lukaku managed in Inter’s title-winning campaign.

Firmino is perhaps the more creative player in the trio and he has not managed double figures for top-flight goals in either of the two seasons, but Lukaku even managed to record more assists than him last term too.

A contributing factor to that is the arrival of Diogo Jota at Anfield, who replaced an at times underperforming Firmino on occasion last season, while Lukaku was very much the main man alongside Lautaro Martinez at Inter.

In fact, all three Liverpool players laid on more assists for their club team-mates than Lukaku did for his in his first season under Conte, but none of the trio could match his return in the category the following year.

What is perhaps more surprising though is that the Liverpool trio all scored more headers than Lukaku last season – however marginally – despite the Belgian’s overwhelming aerial presence which saw him net four times in 2019-20.

What is more staggering is that Salah had the best ratio, scoring his two headers last season from just seven efforts with that part of his body, three of which were on target.

Firmino should also be commended for netting three headers from 15 attempts, eight of which were on target, while Mane only scored twice from the 24 headers he executed, just six of which tested or beat the goalkeeper.

In Italy, Lukaku would have been disappointed to score just once with his head from 17 attempts, four of which were on target. Three of those were saved while the other hit the woodwork, but he does remain a formidable presence in the air.

Salah meanwhile averages the most shots and most shots on target per game in the last two seasons, but neither he nor his fellow Liverpool strikers have – unlike Lukaku – exceeded a shot conversion rate of 20 per cent.

The 28-year-old also managed a better minutes-per-goal ratio in Italy than any of the three Liverpool stars could achieve in England, and only Salah has got the better of him when it comes to big-chance conversions in the last two campaigns.

The Reds trio have become among the most feared on the continent because of their lethal ability to score from fast breaks as well as managing to conjure a goalscoring opportunity from nowhere.

But none of Salah, Mane or Firmino could top Lukaku’s three goals in each of the two respective seasons mentioned from fast breaks.

The Egyptian nearly matched Lukaku for the number of times he scored twice in a game last season, but did manage to seal a hat-trick which evaded the former Everton forward last term.

The majority of the statistics therefore appear to be in Lukaku’s favour, though comparing statistics between players plying their trade in different leagues is unlikely to settle all debates.

However, every member of this specific quartet will have the opportunity to improve their tally and numbers this season when they meet on Saturday, and the hosts may gain hope from recent history.

After scoring four goals in his first four top-flight appearances against Liverpool, Lukaku has scored in only one of his last 11 against the same opposition.

He sent out a warning to the rest of the league at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, but now he will look to rectify his record against the Reds and really put down a marker against one of Chelsea’s title rivals

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