Prolific striker Romelu Lukaku looks set to finally get his chance at Champions League level but what exactly can he bring to this Manchester United team? Adam Bate examines the Belgium international’s strengths and weaknesses.
Romelu Lukaku is on the brink of becoming one of the most expensive signings in football history.
The 24-year-old striker is set to make a £75m move to Manchester United and thoughts have already turned to his suitability. Can he live up to expectations? Will his all-round game stand up to the scrutiny at Old Trafford?
On the face of it, it is all rather strange – and not just because the step from the team who finished seventh in the Premier League last season to the side who finished sixth is, in that sense at least, hardly huge. But there is also Lukaku’s goalscoring record. He joins United having scored 25 Premier League goals for Everton last season.
Indeed, he is the fourth youngest player to hit 80 goals in the competition, having proven to be a consistent performer in front of goal since scoring 17 times for West Bromwich Albion as a teenager in the 2012/13 season. Only Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero has scored more Premier League goals than Lukaku in the last five years.
In that sense, this is a player who has earned his big move and it is understandable that Jose Mourinho should focus his attention on the Belgian. After all, United were quoted a similar price for Alvaro Morata, a forward with less than half the number of top-flight goals to his name despite actually being older than Lukaku.
The age is significant because the real excitement with Lukaku comes from the feeling that he still has the potential to improve. This is not the finished article. Whether or not he goes on to become a United legend could hinge upon that issue: can he add other aspects to his game or will these flaws be exposed in the Old Trafford glare?
Mourinho once questioned Lukaku’s mentality and his motivation at Chelsea but that appetite needs to be there at United where the manager will continue to test him regardless of the price paid. Steve Clarke was with Mourinho at Stamford Bridge before coaching Lukaku at West Brom and believes there is work to do.
Speaking to Clarke earlier this year, he told Sky Sports: “We had to focus on his faults in training. Obviously, he’s got his strength which is scoring goals. But there are other aspects to his game. A little bit more movement off the ball. A little bit better hold-up play … Even now there are still things he needs to work on in his game.”
Lukaku has the build of a target-man but he is no like-for-like replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His passing accuracy is far lower than the likes of Ibrahimovic, Aguero and Harry Kane. Indeed, no out-and-out striker in the Premier League lost possession more times than Lukaku last season. He will need to learn to bring others into play better.
Lukaku’s movement has also been criticised. It is a curious issue because he is a player with the pace to match the power but the statistics are startling. In the 2015/16 campaign, he ranked dead last of the 503 outfield players in the Premier League for distance covered per 90 minutes. He fared little better last term.
Ibrahimovic’s own mobility is not his greatest asset at the age of 35 but it is telling that even he covered more ground and made more high-intensity sprints than Lukaku. It is a clue that more will be expected at Old Trafford even if handed a similar role. The good news for Mourinho is that the younger man has other qualities to add to the United attack.
Lukaku’s pace, for example, could bring opportunities. In particular, he thrives on through-balls and angled passes. “Lukaku can stretch game by playing on defenders’ shoulders,” says Sky Sports tactics expert and former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham, “and that’s exactly what’s needed to create more space for midfielders to dictate.”
It’s an intriguing possibility. Could Lukaku help to make the likes of Paul Pogba look better too? Ibrahimovic’s mentality was much-praised but perhaps Lukaku can help in other ways. He has pace, power and an eye for goal. If he is finally ready to embrace a manager who will focus on his other attributes too, then United could yet have the complete striker.Soccer Accumulator Bonus
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