Are Inter hotshots Lautaro & Lukaku the best striking partnership in Europe?

Lukaku Lautaro Martinez Inter Juventus Serie A
The Belgium and Argentina internationals have forged a deep understanding that belies their short time working together at San Siro

There are no shortage of stellar striking partnerships to be found in the top tier of European football so far in the 2019-20 season. But one, perhaps, has stood out above all others, striking up an instant rapport and proving deadly in Serie A and the Champions League alike.

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have been an unstoppable duo for Inter, marking what already seems another tactical triumph for Antonio Conte as he busies himself with transforming the Nerazzurri into a real force.

Conte's success on the bench has long been built around his exceptional ability to pair two forwards together. During his glory days at Juventus he helped get the best out of the likes of Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco before hitting the jackpot in his final season with the classic big man, little man double act of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, a lethal combination that delivered a third consecutive Scudetto in 2013-14.

At Chelsea, too, the combination of Eden Hazard's exquisite talents and the grizzled tenacity of Diego Costa led to that pair smashing 36 goals between them as the Blues waltzed to the Premier League crown in Conte's debut term. That joy at Stamford Bridge would not last, not least because of the Italian's failure to replace Costa following a row between player and coach; but Conte is not one to jettison a winning formula, as he is showing now at Inter.

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Breaking the club's long habit of fielding a solitary centre-forward, Lukaku and Lautaro combine power, pace and technical excellence in the best tradition of Conte's best forward duos of years past. The Belgian leads the Nerazzurri line and forages deep into opposition territory for possession, while Lautaro roams just off his partner's shoulder, forming the connection with Inter's flat five-man midfield. Such has been their impact that a player of Alexis Sanchez's quality is little more than a benchwarmer, unable to break the L-L monopoly which is growing with every game.

Both forwards also defy simple classification. Lukaku's stature belies a frightening turn of pace and fantastic ability on the ball, often underestimated by observers. Lautaro, meanwhile, is extremely proficient in the air despite standing at just 1.74m, with no fewer than five of his 14 Inter goals to date coming from headers. This is a partnership that offers far more than it may seem at first glance.

The numbers suggest that, despite playing together for little over three months, the experiment has been a rousing success. Reborn after struggling fruitlessly to win over hearts and minds at Manchester United, Lukaku has helped himself to nine goals in all competitions so far, while Lautaro has pitched in with another seven, including memorable strikes against Barcelona and Juventus. That makes for an encouraging total of 16; even more impressive is that 10 of those have come in Inter's last five outings, evidence of their growing connection and understanding.

Lautaro Martinez Romelu Lukaku Inter 2019-20

It is easy to forget that less than a year ago the ex-Racing Club prodigy was new to European football, a perennial substitute behind compatriot Mauro Icardi as Inter once more flattered to deceive. But the glimpses he showed during his cameos on the pitch convinced the Nerazzurri their conflictive former captain was expendable and it is clear from Lautaro's fantastic connection with Lukaku that the decision to release Icardi to Paris Saint-Germain was correct.

By point of comparison, Barca's stuttering trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann has only managed a combined 18 goals, while Juventus duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala have hit just 10 between them. Indeed, of all Europe's elite, perhaps only Manchester City and Liverpool can boast a more potent attacking line-up, with far more time operating as a unit behind them and, with all due respect to the Inter squad, much more talent behind the front-line.

"Potentially they can be the Inter partnership for another 10 years," Conte said of the pair following Saturday's 2-1 win over Bologna thanks to two Lukaku strikes.

"I had studied Lautaro a little before coming here. He is a centre-forward, but at the same time also a second striker, so he's atypical.

"Lukaku is an unusual striker too, because he has this physicality of a centre-forward, but if you give him space to run into, he is devastatingly fast. Above all I'm happy with the work they are both doing off the ball."

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At just 22 and 26, respectively, there is no doubt that, as Conte says, Lautaro and Lukaku could represent the future for Inter, desperate to return to Europe's top table after almost a decade of playing second fiddle to Juve. But things may not be that simple for those in charge at the Nerazzurri.

Reports naming the young Argentine as Luis Suarez's natural successor at Barcelona grow by the day, fuelled by his equally promising partnership with Messi in Argentina colours that shone so brightly during the Copa America. Inter remain bullish, with CEO Giuseppe Marotta insisting on Saturday that, "our players are happy to stay with us and as always a player has to want to leave. Inter is a very strong club which rarely sells its best players.” Nevertheless, a sustained effort from Barca to get their man could yet prove difficult to resist.

Inter will be hoping at the very least that they are afforded a little more time to watch Lautaro and Lukaku in action together, as they aim firmly at smashing Juventus' eight-year stranglehold on the Scudetto. It will be no easy task, but if this brilliant pair can stay fit and in form they have the goals to challenge until the bitter end.