Without a goal at Old Trafford since March, criticised by Jose Mourinho and the worst passer in the Juventus defeat, where has it all gone wrong for Romelu Lukaku at Manchester United?
- Romelu Lukaku appeared to be the perfect signing for Manchester United
- Boss Jose Mourinho has said he needs to link better with his team-mates
- There is a developing school of thought he has bulked up excessively in the gym
- Other more diminutive strikers, like Paulo Dybala, appear to be having more joy
- It could be time Mourinho gives the out-of-sorts Alexis Sanchez up front
It was, as now appears to be the norm, left to Paul Scholes to deliver the most stinging assessment of Romelu Lukaku.
‘I’m just not sure you are ever going to win the league with a goal scorer like him,’ Scholes told ESPN. ‘I don’t think his play outside the box is good enough. I’m not sure if he works hard enough but he’s still a young man who has done well and scored a lot of goals.’
Good, but not good enough. This is the growing consensus about Lukaku, the man Jose Mourinho prised from under the nose of Chelsea last year with a succession of convincing phone calls during the striker’s holidays in New York.
Romelu Lukaku endured another fruitless evening in front of goal against Juventus on Tuesday
Jose Mourinho signed Lukaku on a five-year deal last year, from under the noses of Chelsea
On the surface, the signing was excellent. Lukaku has scored 31 goals in 64 games in United colours. He is still the youngest foreign player to reach 100 Premier League goals, taking in his time at Everton and West Brom.
For Belgium at the World Cup, he was terrific in bulldozing Brazil and spearheading their charge to third place in Russia.
Yet for Manchester United currently, Lukaku is a shadow of the pacy, potent and powerful frontman that Jose Mourinho craves. Against Chelsea on Saturday, Lukaku had only nine touches during a dreadful first period.
He’s the youngest foreign player to score 100 Premier League goals, many of which for Everton
He also led the line expertly for Belgium at this summer’s World Cup, where they came third
On the surface, the signing was excellent, he has scored 31 goals in 64 games in United colours
Up against Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci on Tuesday evening, his 32 touches were the fewest of any player on the field and his 72 percent pass completion rate the worst of any starting player.
It is now eight games without a goal for Manchester United and he has not scored at Old Trafford since March. There is also a developing school of thought that he has bulked up excessively in the gym, gaining extra muscle at the expense of his dynamism.
Mourinho said: ‘Not just with the goals, he is not scoring, but in his confidence, movement, touch – he is not linking the game well with the team. But he’s our striker and a good striker and a striker we believe in.’
Yet increasingly, we are inclined to wonder whether Lukaku is the right fit in the wrong age. This barren run aside, he is an extraordinarily prolific finisher, a threat in the air and physically robust.
Against Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, his 32 touches were the fewest of any player
There is also a developing school of thought that he has bulked up excessively in the gym
Mourinho after the game admitted that Lukaku’s goal drought is proving rather worrying
Yet how many of the modern day great teams play with a frontman so conventional? Mourinho has always played this way, cherishing the leadership of players such as Didier Drogba and Diego Costa.
Yet the modern, progressive game is based upon strikers who press furiously, hunting down defenders and defensive midfielders. They set the tempo for their teams from the front.
This is seen most clearly by smaller frontmen such as Luis Suarez, Paulo Dybala, Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Harry Kane is, perhaps, the exception in terms of his built but Mauricio Pochettino has developed his work rate to similar levels.
Paulo Dybala, Juve’s scorer on Tuesday, is an example of how diminutive forwards now thrive
Lukaku was forced to watched on as his United side slipped to defeat in the Champions League
Lukaku says he is still to develop key relationships with his team-mates: ‘The players need to know me and know my movement. When that starts clicking, I think the results I have with Belgium will also come here.’
Yet perhaps the answer is that Lukaku is the solution for certain games, perhaps against more modest opposition, and out-dated for the major tests against the toughest opponents.
Lukaku has scored only once against an established top-six Premier League team since joining United.
Against Juventus, Lukaku’s languid style drained the life from his team’s performance and there were several occasions players threw their arms out in frustration as those around them failed to making inventive runs.
Alexis Sanchez has toiled woefully since arriving at Old Trafford but perhaps he now deserves a run in a central position, surrounded by the desire and energy of players such as Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, and that may make Lukaku the unfortunate victim if Mourinho is to take his side into a modern era of high pressing and high intensity.
Lukaku’s poor body language only served to drain the life from his team’s performance
Perhaps it is now time for Alexis Sanchez to take the central role from the Belgian striker
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