After arriving from Everton in a club-record, blockbuster deal rising into the realms of £90m, expectation was immediately thrust onto the comparatively young shoulders of Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku, as he took the shirt number worn by Andy Cole and Dimitar Berbatov, and embarked on his Manchester United career, described by himself at the time as “ an opportunity of a lifetime and one that I could not turn down”.
Lukaku rose to the task in hand with immediacy, with seven goals in his first seven Premier League games, and surrounded by the likes of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata to name just a few, it was believed that the club had found a striker capable of replicating the goalscoring streaks so often associated with legendary Manchester United strikers such as Wayne Rooney and Ruud Vaan Nistelrooy.Embed from Getty Images
Following on from Lukaku’s stellar start to the season, a period of inconsistency followed, and questions were naturally asked given Lukaku’s hefty price-tag. After scoring his seventh goal in as many games against Crystal Palace in a 4-0 home win, Lukaku proceeded to score just one in his next 14 league games, and albeit owing to Manchester City’s excellence as opposed to United’s inefficiency, the Premier League title was a far forgone prospect by January.
For Lukaku, it will no doubt have helped that his manager, Jose Mourinho, has been fearlessly protective and publicly supportive of his star striker, as could be perhaps expected of a £90m asset, though he has responded to either his critics or his manager’s praise. The Belgian is unquestionably returning to form.
In his last eight league games, Lukaku has scored four goals and registered three assists, including crucial contributions against Chelsea and Liverpool, defying the criticisms that he does not score goals and register assists against top six opposition. Though it was in Saturday’s 2-1 win against Liverpool, a game that was considered vital for either side in qualifying for the 2018/19 Champions League, that Lukaku epitomised his development as a forward, and how he is now certainly aware of the alternative role he may well have to play for this United side to succeed.Embed from Getty Images
At 6ft 3”, there are no doubts that Lukaku’s height is a key attribute of his game, and in battling and bullying Liverpool centre-half Dejan Lovren for a flicked header through to Marcus Rashford, the Belgian showed once more the additional side of his game: winning key headers, through balls and not solely acting as a classic poacher in the box. Mourinho himself spoke after the 2-1 victory over Liverpool of Lukaku’s abilities, and the options he gives this United side.
“We have also the possibility of the long ball to [Scott] McTominay and to play against [Andrew] Robertson in the air. Lukaku was confident from experience that he could be dominant towards Lovren.”Embed from Getty Images
Lukaku dominated Lovren from the outset at Old Trafford, and this was a game that truly epitomised the fine form he is currently in. As United sit second in the league, looking close to qualifying for the 2018/19 Champions League, and prepare for their quarter-final FA Cup clash against Brighton & Hove Albion, as well as hosting Sevilla this evening in their second-leg, last 16 clash in the Champions League, things are looking rosy for Mourinho’s men, and the return to form of their Belgian maestro will do nothing but boost their pursuit of domestic and European glory as the 2017/18 season draws to a close.
Written by Tom Newman.