Romelu Lukaku’s Inter loan return to spark transfer merry-go-round

Matt LawTelegraph Media Group Limited

Inter Milan are on the brink of sealing Romelu Lukaku’s return to Italy, which will prompt Chelsea into concentrating on incoming transfers.

Raheem Sterling is among Chelsea’s targets this summer and the club plan to decide which attacking players to make firm bids for following Lukaku’s departure.

Lukaku will rejoin Inter on loan once the Italian club give the official green light for the move to go ahead after Chelsea presented them with their final proposal.

New co-owner Todd Boehly made Lukaku’s future one of his top priorities and was left with little choice but to grant him a loan move back to Inter after the striker made clear his determination to return.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel has also backed Lukaku’s move, even though the German insisted he supported Chelsea’s decision to re-sign the Belgian for a club-record £97.5 million last summer.

With the Lukaku problem set to be solved, at least for a season, Chelsea will have a clearer picture on which attacking players they want.

There is an awareness inside Stamford Bridge that replacing Lukaku with another top-class out-and-out striker will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, having seen Erling Haaland move to Manchester City and with Robert Lewandowski preferring a move to Barcelona.

That leaves Chelsea considering other options, but still needing at least one new forward who can provide some guarantee of goals and assists, which is why Sterling is such an attractive option.

Sterling scored 17 goals for City last season and registered nine assists, compared to Lukaku’s 15 goals (only eight of which were in the Premier League) and two assists. Kai Havertz netted 14 times and set up six goals, while Mason Mount provided three more goal contributions than Sterling.

Sterling has only one year left on his contract and Europe’s biggest clubs believe the 27-year-old is ready to leave City, who sources claim will still demand £50-60 million (€58m-€70m) for the England international.

Chelsea have not yet opened any talks with City over Sterling and Tuchel may well recommend signing two attacking players.

Ousmane Dembele (25) could be available on a free transfer and, while he does not offer the same goal threat as Sterling, he did post 13 assists in just 21 matches for Barcelona last season in La Liga.

Dembele’s injury record is a cause for concern and Chelsea have also been made aware of the availability of Sterling’s City team-mate Gabriel Jesus, although Arsenal are at the front of the queue for the Brazilian.

RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku would likely be the most expensive of Chelsea’s attacking options.

Any firm move for Sterling could also prompt discussions between Chelsea and City over Nathan Ake.

Tuchel holds a long-term interest in Ake, having first become interested in the defender while in charge at Borussia Dortmund, and the 27-year-old would provide Chelsea with a natural left-footed replacement for Antonio Rudiger in the back three.

The fact Ake can fill in at left-back and play in midfield would also be attractive. Chelsea sold Ake to Bournemouth in 2017 for £21 million and did not take up their buy-back option when he then moved to City for £41 million two years ago.

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