By Matt Scott at the Stadium of Light
With a misfiring Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge unable to fully convince, Chelsea have been unable to move on from the departure of Didier Drogba this season and, now more than ever, it appears the club missed a trick by allowing Romelu Lukaku to leave the club on loan in the summer.
The Belgium international, plying his trade with West Brom this season, has proven he has the pace, presence and goalscoring precision to flourish in England's top flight after a debut season with the Blues that saw him start no Premier League games and unsurprisingly score no goals.
Lukaku only made a 20-minute appearance at Sunderland on Saturday but could have had a hat-trick, slotting home a penalty before beating Simon Mignolet to the ball and sliding it just wide and rattling the post with another effort, while he helped to set up Marc-Antoine Fortune's goal that settled the game.
The Black Cats' defence had handled the visitors comfortably up to Lukaku's introduction with Zoltan Gera's wonder goal and Mignolet's horrendous error gifting Shane Long a goal giving the Baggies two goals that the home defence did not deserve to concede.
The 19-year-old's introduction completely changed things, with Phil Bardsley unable to outpace Lukaku as he had Long, and Carlos Cuellar not strong enough to contain the teenager, as he had the Irishman.
It is not the first time that Lukaku has given good defenders problems this season.
He emerged from the bench to cause havoc and score against Liverpool on his debut before further impressive outings against Tottenham, Reading and Newcastle, helping the Baggies grab a last-gasp equaliser against Spurs and netting against the Royals and Magpies.
Martin Skrtel, Vincent Kompany and Fabricio Coloccini are among the stellar names on the list of defenders that have been bamboozled by the Belgian's bullish approach so far this term.
With a touch more composure, Lukaku may well have added to his four goals so far this term, he almost netted against Manchester City before the champions late win and also spurned two one-on-one chances at St James' Park before finding the net with a second-half header.
But at such a young age, he has time to improve his finishing and clearly has the devastating power to make an impact from the bench that has been lacking in west London with just two recognised strikers in the Chelsea squad.
More than that, the Blues' striking pair have been poor so far this season.
Sturridge was clearly not trusted by Roberto Di Matteo. The Englishman enjoyed a regular spot in Andre Villas-Boas' Chelsea side but found himself out of the line-up once the Italian took over, and played just 171 Premier League minutes this season under the former midfielder until Di Matteo's harsh sacking.
Torres has been a different story, but not a hugely positive one. The Spaniard has started each of the Blues' 12 Premier League games this season and although his four goals give him a decent goals-to-game ratio compared to the rest of his Chelsea career, it is still way short of the standard expected from a man who cost £50 million.
Rafael Benitez has been hired as Roberto Di Matteo's replacement, with many speculating that the former Liverpool manager has been brought to the Bridge in an attempt to boost his compatriot's poor performances.
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Roman Abramovich need not worry about the state of his bank balance, but with the Colombian expected to cost him a similar amount as Torres, why should he not save himself the money and bring in a player who has more than proven his ability in the Premier League?
Benitez is able to recall Lukaku in January if he sees fit, although Baggies boss Steve Clarke insisted afterwards that he does not believe going back to his parent club mid-season would be the best option.
He told reporters on Saturday: "He [Benitez] hasn't been in touch, I don't expect him to get in touch. Romelu came here to get regular football that he wouldn't at Chelsea."
The Scot has previously admitted that he is in the dark over the Belgian's immediate future at the Hawthorns and if Falcao proves to be too expensive to chase in January, Lukaku is the man Chelsea must bring in, if they are to fully challenge Manchester's table-toppers in the title race.
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