As the Blues look to build on Sunday’s opening-day win by securing another three points at home to Aston Villa tonight, Romelu Lukaku believes success could rest on nullifying the threat posed by a player he knows extremely well.
Christian Benteke netted twice as Paul Lambert’s ever-improving side began their campaign with a 3-1 win away at Arsenal on Saturday.
The striker, who also opened the scoring when we won 2-1 at Villa Park in May, recently signed a new four-year deal at the club after a summer of speculation surrounding his future.
Following his transfer from Genk last August, Benteke enjoyed an impressive debut season in English football, scoring 23 goals, and Lukaku sees his fellow countryman as a major threat.
‘I know him well, I’ve known him for a long time and I always used to play against him at youth level, although he’s three years older than me,’ says the Chelsea forward.
‘He’s skilful; he’s good in the air and is strong with his back to goal. He’s what I would call a modern-day target man.
‘I didn’t really follow it [the speculation] because I was so focused on having a good pre-season myself, but I’m happy for him that he signed a new deal at Villa and I’m sure he’ll go on to do very well there.’
With both players competing for the Belgium national team’s striker role, there is, inevitably, a healthy rivalry between the pair.
More often than not, manager Marc Wilmots prefers to play with only one forward, with the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne tasked with supplying the service for whoever is chosen to lead the line.
Belgium’s recent friendly win against the US, however, saw the duo play alongside each other for much of the second half, and they struck up an instant relationship, helping their country to4-2 victory.
‘It was a good game,’ Lukaku says. ‘It’s up to the manager whether he wants to do it more often and he has to make a choice whether or not to play one up top.
‘That’s just one of those things you have to do in football, but hopefully I’ll get the nod in the next game.’
Tonight’s match has been brought forward due to our participation in the UEFA Super Cup at the end of the month, with the Blues looking to extend our unbeaten run in the Premier League to 12 matches.
Last season’s corresponding fixture saw us run out 8-0 winners, equalling our biggest Premier League win, but Lukaku is expecting a difficult game this time around.
‘I think every game is a tough test, especially for us because we play for a club where there is a lot of pressure,’ he explains.
‘As players, we can handle it, we also have a manager that likes pressure, so we are ready for the game and we will do our best to get another three points at home.’
The 20-year-old was introduced as a 75th-minute substitute during Sunday’s win, his first competitive outing for the Blues since the final day of the 2011/12 campaign.
He was delighted to be back involved, and believes competing with the likes of Fernando Torres, who started against Steve Bruce’s side, and Demba Ba, can only aid his development.
‘It was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time, and hopefully in the next game I’ll be able to play a bit more,’ he says.
‘They are world-class players, I get along very well with both of them so it’s good to have competition for places.
‘I enjoyed my time at West Brom last season but now I want to move on, become a better player and score more goals, so it’s good for me to be competing against Fernando and Demba.
‘As a younger player, I’m able to learn from them, which is obviously a good thing, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and do it yourself.’