Chelsea are ready to give young striker Romelu Lukaku a shot at claiming a first-team place with them next season after impressing in his current spell at West Bromwich Albion, according to Baggies manager Steve Clarke.
Lukaku, who turns 20 the day after the current Premier League campaign ends, has scored 13 goals so far in his year-long loan at West Brom. That form in front of goal could see him playing back at Stamford Bridge next season rather than remaining at The Hawthorns for another year, something the Belgium international has previously said he would be happy to do.
Clarke admitted he is resigned to losing Lukaku at the end of the season, and that he never held out any hopes of a renewal on the loan deal.
"He is Chelsea's player," he said. "He belongs to Chelsea and he will go back there in the summer.
"I have never thought it would be possible Chelsea would let him come back next season. He came on a season-long loan and we're grateful we got him."
Lukaku could be well-placed to push for a regular place in the Chelsea attack next term if the club does not recruit any other strikers in the summer.
Fernando Torres scored the decisive goal in Thursday night's Europa League clash with Steaua Bucharest, but the Spaniard has not registered in the Premier League for since the 8-0 win over Aston Villa in December. Demba Ba, the club's only other recognised striker, has scored four goals in 13 appearances since joining from Newcastle United in January.
Lukaku is yet to open his Chelsea account, having not scored in any of his 12 appearances in the 2011/12 season following his £18 million move from Anderlecht.