Romelu Lukaku banged in his fourth goal in six games and was a constant menace as Man Utd secured a dominant victory over Huddersfield at the weekend. The £75 million summer signing has endured a couple of worrying goal droughts this season, but appears to be finally awakening from his slumber. The arrival of Chilean superstar Alexis Sanchez could have jolted him into action, and the fans will gladly welcome his upturn in form.
Sanchez is by no means an orthodox centre-forward but he kept Olivier Giroud out of the Arsenal team for long periods last season. He has the pace, intelligence, movement and finishing ability to thrive in a central role, in a similar fashion to Luis Suarez or Carlos Tevez. It convinced Arsene Wenger to play him up top in plenty of games, and that will surely have been at the back of Lukaku’s mind when Sanchez arrived at Old Trafford. Competition for places typically brings out the best in players and Man Utd’s attack is now studded with magnificent talent. Lukaku, Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can all fill that central role with aplomb, so Lukaku knows he has to deliver to hold onto his place in the side.
Lukaku brings a certain dimension to the team that the likes of Sanchez, Martial and Rashford could not really hope to replicate: the aerial ability, hold-up play and power of a target man. Ibrahimovic looks like he has one foot out the door, and the rest of Man Utd’s forwards – and that includes the ever-improving Jesse Lingard, who is developing a terrific eye for goal – are quick, nimble and dynamic, but lack Lukaku’s hulking physical presence. It can only benefit the team to have a player of Lukaku’s attributes firing on all cylinders, and if he plays at or around his full potential he will be guaranteed a place in the starting 11.
Having Sanchez beavering away alongside him might help Lukaku develop into the striker Man Utd fans were hoping for when the club shelled out that fortune on him last summer. The Chilean is lethal in front of goal but he also gets plenty of assists as he often chooses to play difficult forward passes. It can be frustrating for fans when a few go awry, but he will typically land a few key passes in a game and that can only be good for Lukaku as he can be the fulcrum of this Utd attack.
Wayne Rooney believes Sanchez is the “perfect” signing for his former club because he will spark an improvement in those around him. “He’s got aggression, he’s got passion, desire,” said Rooney. “You can see he’s a winner. So I think that’s sort of what Manchester United have lacked, players around Lukaku who are going to push him on as well and try and help him, give him a bit more freedom, score more goals.”
That is the ultimate statistic upon which the Belgian’s success or lack thereof in a Man Utd jersey will be measured: scoring goals. When he signed in the summer, everyone expected him to rival Harry Kane for the Golden Boot.
After all, Lukaku had finished second behind the England striker the previous year in a limited Everton side, and was expected to benefit from improved service at Man Utd. When he notched 11 goals in his opening 10 games, alongside five in three matches for Belgium, he became the clear favourite to finish the campaign as the Premier League’s top scorer. But then came the epic goal drought, which went on for seven games before he struck against Newcastle. It proved to be a false dawn, however, as he managed just three goals in his next 12 games.
He was widely ridiculed by opposing fans on social media, with his first touch and finishing ability coming in for heaps of criticism, but he has since rammed it back down their throats with four goals in six games. Fans will hope it is not another false dawn. Those four goals have taken his tally for the season to 15, with 12 of them coming in the Premier League. That leaves him well behind Kane on 22 and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on 21, and he will not be troubling the Golden Boot race this year. But he can still enjoy a strong finish to the season: in the Premier League spread betting you can buy at 19 goals and sell at 18.25, and breaking the 20-goal barrier is a realistic goal.
That would require him to score eight in the remaining 12 games, which would represent a prosperous denouement to a topsy-turvy campaign. Lukaku scored 25 league goals for Everton last season and clearly has a great eye for goal. He has been far more prolific when Paul Pogba is on the pitch – his seven-game goal drought coincided with injury to the French midfielder – and that suggests he will also thrive alongside Sanchez, who likes to carry the ball forwards in a similarly marauding fashion. The injection of fresh talent should benefit the team, spark an improvement in results and lead to more chances for their forwards.
Man Utd do not have the easiest run in to the season, but fans will expect Lukaku to deliver in the big games due to his hefty price tag. The initial signs of improvement are promising as Lukaku has looked sharper and a lot more dangerous in recent weeks, and if he can continue his resurgence he really could challenge Kane for the Golden Boot next season. If not, he will find the axe falling on him, regardless of his price tag, and that is a strong motivation to succeed.