The footballing world was taken off guard by the news of Manchester United’s £75 million deal for Romelu Lukaku after it was widely expected that the Belgian powerhouse would join Chelsea over the summer.
Enter the continuous debate citing Romelu Lukaku’s record against top-six teams, his first touch, the space he gets playing in a counter-attacking Everton side and how he won’t get that space at Manchester United and so on.
The first point to address when considering all of these factors – all valid factors to bring up, I might add – is that Jose Mourinho has a ridiculously successful track record when signing strikers.
Didier Drogba, Diego Costa, Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic round out some of the forwards picked up by the Portuguese manager, with each of them winning at least either a domestic or European trophy under the tenure of Mourinho.
Sure, maybe I didn’t mention Andriy Shevchenko, who didn’t exactly light the Premier League on fire when he joined Chelsea for £30 million in 2006, but you can’t win them all.
So, what will make Romelu Lukaku a success at Manchester United?
The upgrade in class surrounding the Belgian will be one if, if not the, most important difference between playing at Everton and Manchester United.
Is this the greatest Manchester United team ever? Absolutely not, but the thought of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Henrikh Mkhitaryan teeing up Lukaku is much more appealing than watching another season of Lukaku feeding off the scraps he was offered at Everton.
That’s neither a swipe at The Toffees nor an exaggeration in some matches; against top-six sides, a reference point for all of us armchair analysts when discussing Lukaku’s move, the Belgian was painfully isolated as a result of Everton’s usual counter-attacking set-up.
A record of four goals from 11 games against top-six opposition isn’t bad, but not great either, and those numbers become even more underwhelming when considering just three were from open play and that Lukaku played 90 minutes in all of those games.
We could just leave that there and build an entire discussion as why that record matched with Lukaku’s transfer fee will lead to his inevitable failure at Manchester United, but there’s so many other areas to consider.
One of which is Jose Mourinho’s style of play. Often confused with a ‘boring’ lockdown containment style, and not completely far off it at times, Jose Mourinho has mastered the art of counter-attacking throughout his managerial career.
The desire to shut down opposition threats and transition quickly has become a trademark of the former Chelsea boss, and is a method that has brought him success in each of his last five clubs. But Lukaku won’t get space to run in-behind at Manchester United, right?
Well, not necessarily. Teams like Burnley and West Brom will still stay compact and defend deep when coming to Old Trafford – which was a huge problem last season – but a striker like Romelu Lukaku will give so many options for a manager as experienced as Jose Mourinho.
If he wants to allow the opposition some time on the ball and then break quickly after winning it back, he knows Lukaku has the pace to get in-behind and the ability to finish – we’ve seen the Belgian do that on numerous occasions for Everton.
Should Mourinho want his striker to drop slightly deeper and hold up the ball to allow the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial space to move between the lines, Lukaku certainly has the physique to outmuscle any centre-half in the league – but the first touch? Time will tell.
If Mourinho wants his defenders to push high and launch long-balls into the area, perhaps when needing a goal late on, he knows Lukaku has the aerial ability to win headers amongst cramped defences (he scored six headers in the league last season, second only to Christian Benteke and Fernando Llorente).
Romelu Lukaku is also a capable finisher with both feet; his seven right-footed strikes in the Premier League last season was the joint-most from any player on their non-preferred side (the other player being Harry Kane).
Sure, the thought of Romelu Lukaku on the UEFA Champions League stage is somewhat of an unknown quantity (he hasn’t played in the competition since he was a teenager at Anderlecht), but the player has mentioned how he needed Champions League football to take his career to the next level.
Is the move a risk? Of course, but given the current state of the transfer market, were there really that many alternatives? Alvaro Morata’s potential move was building traction at the end of the season but stalled in the past few weeks, leading us to where we are now, on the verge of possibly the summer’s biggest transfer in English football.
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