The Critcism of LukakuAdded by Philip Meese on 07 Mar 2018 21:31
Despite a statistically impressive debut season at Old Trafford, Romelu Lukaku has come in for a lot of criticism since becoming Manchester United’s number 9. Is it justified?
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
Striker’s Graveyard. This is what Old Trafford became known back in the 1980’s. Since then, a number of previously prolific strikers have been swallowed up in the Theatre of Dreams. Names such as Garry Birtles, Terry Gibson and Diego Forlán were all imported at significant cost to cost to Manchester United, but found that the pressure of playing for England’s biggest club was too much to bear. At one point, it looked like Andy Cole was going to be added to that list after a barren first couple of years before he found his scoring boots. Maybe he would have been had United signed Alan Shearer.
In recent seasons this tag has disappeared, and didn’t even resurface during Radamel Falcao’s struggles. Over the past 20 years, practically every striker United have brought in has done a great job when fit, even Forlán, who always played well despite not hitting the net with any regularity. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimović are just some of the high profile names that have come into the club and thrived during that time. Romelu Lukaku is on course for 30 goals in his first season at the club, and yet there are some who still question him.
Everyone knew before we completed Lukaku’s transfer that he isn’t Messi, Neymar or Suárez, and that there were one or two limitations to his game. The most common which seems to be banded around, and not without reason to be fair, is a poor first touch. Some say it is so bad that his second touch is a tackle. There is no doubt that this could be improved, and the Lukaku himself will be aware of this. At 24 years old, however, he is still relatively young and this may improve over time. It’s also possible that, like Paul Scholes with his tackling, it never gets better.
There is also a rumour that José Mourinho is concerned that he has put so much muscle on over the last few months that his pace has been affected. This did not seem to be the case, however, when making that lung-bursting run from his own half late in the game against Chelsea, where he almost fashioned a brilliant individual goal for himself.
Another accusation that gets lobbied at the Belgian is that he is nothing more than a flat-track bully, who scores against teams in the lower half of the table, but not against the top six. This is not actually true. There was one season, in 2014-15, where he didn’t score a single goal against any side in the top six, but other than that his record is not too bad. Since going out on loan to West Bromwich Albion five years ago, Tottenham is the only club he has really struggled to score against, netting just once against them. He has, however, has netted five goals against Manchester City, five against Liverpool, three against Arsenal and two against Chelsea. He also scored twice against Leicester City the year they won the title, and who can forget his hat trick against United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in 2013. His strike rate could be better against the big boys, but to say he never troubles them is completely inaccurate.
The haters were probably fuming when he netted a well taken equaliser against Chelsea. It is true that his record against the top six or seven sides in the country isn’t great, especially this season, but a closer look at these games might offer an insight as to why. In the away games against Liverpool and Tottenham, as well as City at Old Trafford, Lukaku had one chance in each of these matches. On all of those occasions, his shot was on target, and forced the respective goalkeeper into a save. While he might have worked the keeper a bit harder at Anfield, there was little more he could have done against Spurs or City. At Wembley, the Belgian had one chance, which he not only did well to get on target from that angle, but even better to force Hugo Lloris into a fantastic save. Against City, the only chance he had saw Lukaku, off balance and stretching to reach the ball, get his shot on target, only to see Ederson make a save at point blank range. Strange as it may seem, goalkeepers will do their job sometimes. It’s probably why they get paid so much money.
Against Arsenal away, or Spurs at home, he didn’t get any clear-cut chances. Because of the more conservative style of football Mourinho tends to opt for against the top six sides, chances for Lukaku are at a premium in these games. This means the Belgian is feeding off scraps, yet is meant to make it look like a feast.
If He Played for Anyone Else
The difference between Lukaku and the next big money signing is that he plays for United. The world is watching, armed with social media accounts, ready to slate him at the first opportunity. All the United haters, and it seems some of the club’s so-called fans, want him to fail so they can sit and revel in their own smugness while saying “I was right”.
Cast your mind back to that chance in the Derby. Yes, he was two yards out, but it’s not like he missed an open net. What seems really strange is nobody has given much credit to Ederson in the City net for what was actually a brilliant save. If that had been Agüero at the other end, everybody would have been waxing lyrical about how brilliant David de Gea is, and rightly so. Would anybody have been questioning Agüero’s abilities? No, and as a result, Ederson has received little to no recognition for stopping an almost certain equaliser.
With social media the way it is, the haters with their army of followers can make any player in the world seem like a donkey. If de Gea makes a mistake at any time in the future that leads to United conceding a goal, the fact that he is one of the best in the world, if not the best, will soon be forgotten. News feeds all over the world will be alive with GIF’s showing replays of the incident, and insinuating that this type of mistake happens every week.
For Lukaku to score 23 goals, with two months of his debut season still to go, is hardly the record of a flop. Four of those goals have come in the Champions League, from seven appearances. He is doing just fine. Sure, there is room for improvement, but he is 24 years old. You also have to factor in that he came from Everton where, despite the fact that they are a fantastic club, the level of expectation is nowhere near as high as at Old Trafford. He is only three goals away from eclipsing his best ever total in a single season, which suggests he has more than risen to the challenge, especially taking into account the goal drought he suffered towards the end of 2017.
He’s a striker, and United bought him to put the ball in the net, which he has done quite regularly. He has missed a couple of chances that he should have done better with, no doubt about that. Against Sevilla, he skied one volley over the bar after hurrying a shot where he had more time than he realised. This could eventually cost United in the second leg. There was another chance, away to Watford where he found himself in acres of space. Looking back, it seems he had too much time to make the shot, which didn’t end up in the net like it should have done. It’s not as though these are regular occurrences, though. If they were, he wouldn’t have scored 23 goals so far this season.
Improvements in his Game
Lukaku looks like he is becoming a more rounded player since moving to United. In addition to his lovely finish against Chelsea, he also set up the winner for Jesse Lingard. A few weeks ago, his hold-up play, and subsequent ball to Anthony Martial, set up the winning goal for Mourinho’s side at Burnley. This suggests that he is trying to evolve into more of a team player, rather than the type of striker van Nistelrooy was in his last two years at United, where he just expected chances to be created for him to finish.
The run he made from his own half in injury time against Chelsea is probably something he should try more often. The Belgian has plenty of pace and power, as he showed in that move, and demonstrated that he is capable of being much more than just a penalty box predator. It also shows that his work rate has improved dramatically over the last year. You’d be hard pressed to recall him doing things like that at Everton. Does any United fan really wish the club had bought Álvaro Morata instead?
Romelu Lukaku isn’t Neymar, Agüero or even Harry Kane, and nor is he trying to be. There is no denying that players such as those are ahead of him. He is, however, a proven Premier League striker who, for the fourth season running, has gone past the 20 goal mark. This hasn’t changed upon moving to England’s biggest club, where many brilliant strikers have tried before him, only to buckle under the pressure.
The Stretford End may have been stopped from singing about 24 inches, but you would bank on Lukaku getting his 24th goal sooner rather than later. With plenty of the season still to play, to reach that many in his maiden Old Trafford campaign does not a waste of money represent.