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The expectations of Romelu Lukaku during the 2018/19 season

It is more than a year now that Romelu Lukaku signed for Manchester United from Everton, for a mega-deal amounting to almost £75 million. The young Belgian striker was signed to lead United’s attack, as their long-standing captain and talisman, Wayne Rooney, went the opposite way, joining Everton, his boyhood club. Lukaku, then only 24 years old, was expected to fill in the vacuum left by Rooney, a big task for any player.

Jose Mourinho, who had worked with Lukaku previously at Chelsea, was very happy with his choice of player and set forth his expectations from the striker.

“Romelu is a natural fit for Manchester United. He is a big personality and a big player. It is only natural that he wants to develop his career at the biggest club. He will be a great addition to the group and I know they will make him very welcome. I am really looking forward to working with him again.”

Standing tall at 6 ft. 3 in and boasting a strong, muscular build, the 25-year-old is surprisingly quick and pacy. He has all the attributes required for a classic target-man, he can provide a natural aerial threat, owing to his height and strength, and has an excellent ability to use his build to shield the ball from the opponents. He is very mature for his age and isn’t shy to drop in odd positions to recover the ball or even to release other players. He is an intelligent players who can, with his off-the-ball runs, draw defenders out of their zones to create an additional attacking threat. And to top all of this off, he has a powerful left foot, which hasn’t failed to deliver goals.

In three out of four seasons for Everton, Lukaku managed to bag more than 20 goals in all competitions, including 25 goals in the 2016-17 Premier League season, when he finished behind Harry Kane for the Premier League Golden Boot award. He continued his rich form for United in his debut season as he racked up 27 goals in all competitions, 16 of them in the league. In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Lukaku was instrumental for Belgium, leading the team to the semi-finals. He scored four goals and created one, in the six games he played. He had a pretty successful tournament as he showed great composure, maturity and of course, goal scoring abilities. He already is the record goal-scorer for Belgiumwith 40 goals and has 101 goals in the Premier League, with the better part of his career still on the horizon.

United fans would hope that Lukaku continues his form this season for United. If United are to win any trophies this season, then their main striker must be involved in a lot of goals. He had a brilliant start last season scoring seven goals in seven league games for United and then faced a rough patch. He recovered and finished the season on a high. However, for United to stand a realistic chance of winning the league, Lukaku should be netting in more consistently than last season. Since the 2009-10 season, the team that won the Premier League has had at least one player scoring 20 goals or more. Lukaku should set a similar target to give United a fighting chance.

Although scoring goals is why Lukaku is paid as much as he is, he has a plethora of other skills that allow him to venture out into different roles. Back in October 2017, when facing a lean spell, manager Jose Mourinho stepped in to defend the player, stating that his role in the team was much bigger than scoring goals.

“It’s not one ball that hit the post or one save by the opposite goalkeeper that can make Romelu’s contribution below the top-level. He’s playing extremely well for us and yes, I have to protect my players when I think my players deserve it. Romelu always deserves it because of what he does for the team, what he does for the team is fantastic. Playing football for a striker is not just about scoring goals.”

Under the watchful eyes of Mourinho, Lukaku has developed into an intelligent player. He uses his natural strength and build to shield the ball from opponents and drawing the pressure onto himself, thus freeing up some teammates. In the 4-2-3-1 formation that United play in often, this hold-up play is very important as that brings out the defenders and lets quicker players like Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to make runs behind the back-line. He drops back to recover the ball and helps out the defence during set-plays. Despite his muscular build, he has exceptional pace and can be a big threat when United go on a counter.

Of late, he has shown that he can be the vocal player and inspire the team, when things aren’t going well. Despite being young, he is a towering character in the dressing room and has the ability to take the lead and setting an example. In addition, his humility and attitude have endeared him to Mourinho, who joked that Lukaku is like his ‘sergeant’ on the field– ready to all that is required to get the result.

In the opening game against Leicester City, Lukaku came on for United as a substitute and played for 23 minutes. The only talking point for him was that he scuffed a relatively easy one-on-one chance against Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. It may well have been because he was simply rusty, as he hasn’t had any training since returning from the World Cup. But after a good week of training, Lukaku would be hungry to kick-start his campaign against Brighton and Hove Albion. United do pack a lot of ammunition with the squad they have, and now it’s now up to the ‘sergeant’ to lead the way.

Written by Chinmay Tembe

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