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Champions League: Chelsea looking for Lukaku inspiration

It would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has failed to find his best form since returning to Chelsea but now is the time for him to kick into gear.

The striker recorded just seven touches in Saturday's 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, a statistic that will further buoy those who think he doesn't have quite what it takes to shine in England.

However, having netted twice at the recent Club World Cup, all will be forgiven if he can fire his club to second straight Champions League crown at 8/1.

Inconsistent since signing from Inter

The Belgian arguably didn't receive the playing time his talent deserved during his first spell at Stamford Bridge but after starring at Everton and Inter Milan, either side of a mixed spell at Man Utd, his move back to England is still to ignite.

Despite winning the Champions League in 2020/21, Thomas Tuchel made no secret of his desire to build his team for the current campaign around a genuine number nine.

Lukaku looked the perfect man, professing his love for the club upon signing from Inter before netting four in as many games.

The goals soon dried up and his impact was further tempered by an ankle injury suffered in October.

He then struggled to get back into the side after returning in November. To make matters worse, he gave an interview made public over Christmas where he suggested to an Italian outlet that he regretted leaving Inter.

Tuchel punished the 28-year-old by leaving him out of the side but the German's faith in his £97.5m man looks to have been restored, with him seemingly an undoubted starter in attack.

But is Lukaku being selected on form or reputation? That statistic regarding him having just seven touches at Selhurst Park, one of them being the kick-off, is troubling. So are some of his other numbers.

His tally of five Premier League goals leaves him only third in Chelsea's own rankings and his shooting accuracy of just 39 per cent is below par for a player of his ilk, especially having netter 47 times over his two seasons in Serie A.

European incentive

There could be a consolation, though. Lukaku's two strikes at the Club World Cup show that he can still come up with the goods and the Champions League could prove his salvation.

The Antwerp-born forward has found the net twice in this season's competition and is 5/6 to score at anytime when Lille visit Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in the last 16.

Chelsea finished second in Group H behind Juventus and are 1/3 to take an advantage to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy next month.

Lukaku's return of two goals in four European games this season is more promising and a strong showing against Les Dogues could be what is needed to kickstart his second Chelsea career.

Lille look dangerous

That said, Lille will not be an easy opponent. Any team that beats Sevilla away is worth noting and with things not going so well at home, Jocelyn Gourvennec's men have somewhat of a free hit in Europe.

Les Dogues lost some key men after their title victory, while Gourvennec also came in to replace Christophe Galtier after the 55-year-old suggested he did not feel he could take the team any further.

They cross the Channel sat 11th in Ligue 1, but only four points adrift of fifth-placed Rennes following Friday's 0-0 draw with fellow northerners Metz.

The Flandrians found the target with just one of their 13 shots in that game but have proven marksmen in Turkish veteran Burak Yilmaz and Canadian Jonathan David. David scored in his side's final three pool games and having not yet netted at club level in 2022, is 7/2 in the anytime market and justify the rumours that saw him linked with a January switch to the Premier League.

Lille topped Group G and are 17/2 to win in London, with the draw 4/1 but are arguably the weakest of the top seeds. However, as they showed in outlasting PSG in 2020/21, they have no problem when it comes to being the underdog.

Injury worries for Juve

Things haven't proved easy for Massimiliano Allegri since returning to Juventus in the summer. The Bianconeri sit fourth in Serie A, nine points off the pace and Friday's 1-1 Derby della Mole draw with Torino saw him lose Daniele Rugani, Paulo Dybala and Luca Pellegrini to injury.

With Federico Chiesa, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini already sidelined, Allegri will need to get creative with his selection for Tuesday's Champions League last 16 trip to Villarreal.

Villarreal remain without striker Gerard Moreno but are a team in form having remained unbeaten in their last four La Liga outings to lift themselves up to sixth.

The Europa League holders are 29/20 to win on the evening but give teams a chance, keeping just one clean sheet on their way to second place behind Man Utd in Group F.

Defensive deficiency

Juve beat Chelsea to top spot in Group H and they too were leaky at the back, conceding four against the Blues but still managed to take the top seeding.

Allegri's men are 2/1 to win at the Ceramica, with the draw on the night 11/5.  However, having failed to keep a clean sheet in their last three, appear to be vulnerable.

With Bonucci, Chiellini and, now Rugani sidelined, Matthijs de Ligt looks set to be partnered by either Danilo or Alex Sandro, both full-backs, in the heart of the Bianconeri defence.

Is that a good enough combination? It remains to be seen, but this could be a lively affair and over 2.5 goals is 13/10.

Juve's plan may be built around damage limitation and a Villarreal win and both to score at 9/2 might be the answer, and 2-1 to the Yellow Submarine, available at 9/1, would probably be acceptable to both.

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