It’s fair to say nobody saw this transfer happening a week ago. Alvaro Morata was long odds-on to join United and Romelu Lukaku was not far behind to join Chelsea. I for one was prepping to find some more information on the young Spaniard in order to write something useful and meaningful about what he could bring to United, this job is much easier with Lukaku. Whether Jose Mourinho was ever really interested in Morata may remain unknown, but either way, I believe United have ended up with the right man to fire them back into title contention.
When Mourinho let Lukaku leave Chelsea 3 years ago, he didn’t see him as his man to deliver the goals and ultimately the title to Stamford Bridge and not too many could argue with his decision as Diego Costa went on to fire Chelsea to another league title. To Lukaku’s credit, he has gone on to score consistently for Everton proving he holds the key ingredient to being a top striker. Far too often last season, United struggled to put the ball in the back of the net and finish teams off, resulting in far too many draws, mainly against the lesser clubs. The big Belgian should solve this problem as he has always been able to deliver time and time again against these clubs, but unfortunately, this has also created his biggest criticism.
For many, they don’t believe Lukaku is a ‘big-time’ player, not possessing the ability and determination to deliver when it really matters. However, over the past 3 seasons, Everton as a club, have done something similar and struggled when it really matters, coming up short in cup competitions and failing to break into that top 6 elite. For me, this points to the exact reason why Lukaku may have appeared to short change the Toffees in the big games, because he simply did not receive the same level and consistency of opportunities that he did against the lower clubs. Every striker in world football, outside of the 2 goal scoring freaks over in La Liga, relies on the players around them to produce goal scoring opportunities and against the top sides, these opportunities are always reduced, that’s just a fact of football. I mean no disrespect to Everton at all, but playing at United, he will be playing with better players and they expect to win and dominate in every game, meaning it is now time for Lukaku to prove that the ‘not a big-time player’ is just a myth.
Lukaku is the stereotypical Mourinho striker, big, strong and direct. The reason he was brought to Chelsea was to follow in Didier Drogba’s footsteps and the similarities are obvious, but it is the man he is replacing at United that is a more interesting comparison. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at times brilliant last season, at least on paper, his scoring record suggests so. But, these goals probably papered over the cracks as with him in the side, United were not the greatest on the eye and limited to the way they could play and attack teams. As a target man, Zlatan has great qualities, especially bringing players into play with his touch and finesse, this is probably one area Lukaku will have to improve. I wouldn’t suggest for one minute his touch is terrible like some have, but he does not always offer the consistency in this department as Mourinho would like. But once he has the ball at his feet, like Zlatan, it is very difficult for any defender in the world to get it off him. He has strength in abundance, possesses good feet and an eye for a pass, if he can add a consistent first touch and lay off, he could become the ultimate target man.
There is one more element to his game that Zlatan certainly didn’t possess and that is he can run in behind defences, run the channels and frighten centre-halves up and down the country with his pace. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t got the express pace of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial, but he is quick enough to out step most defences. This will bring a further facet to the way Mourinho can attack from next season and should see United much more dynamic. Following Zlatan’s injury, Rashford offered the same options and we saw some really good performances, the standout probably against Chelsea. Tactically it was typical Mourinho, but Rashford’s extra mobility pushed the entire team on, defending from the front and offering so many different outlets than what Zlatan could. Rashford’s overall target play is not quite there in the big games where having a big target man can release pressure, Lukaku is going to bring just that. The creative players will now be offered more options in front of them, if United can add a more defensive minded player to play alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, we could really see the former flourish next season and with that a more attractive looking outfit. We have already seen Lukaku and Pogba are big mates off the field, all Reds will be hoping that this relationship is a sign of things to come on it.
Of course, Lukaku can offer more options when setting the team up, he is an ideal foil for someone like Rashford, potentially forming a devastating partnership, although it is unlikely to be a regular occurrence with Mourinho favoured system of 4-3-3. This does highlight possibly the only negative to the signing, with the potential impact on Rashford’s progress. He spent very little time in his favoured position last season due to Zlatan and you would think this pattern will continue with the arrival of Lukaku. At 24, the Belgian could be the number 1 striker for the next 6 or 7 years, raising serious doubts about where Rashford goes from here. He is still very young, needs to fully mature and is still learning which Lukaku should help, but it seems Mourinho will once again utilise Rashford in the wide position, possibly stunting his progress as a striker. Rashford is a serious talent that no one connected to the club will want to see go by the wayside, but this is a results business and it would be a huge risk to put the club’s goal scoring pressures on such young shoulders.
Lukaku has expressed his desire to play at the very top, at United he will be doing just that, even if not as high as they once were. He will have his first taste of Champions League football, he will be playing in front of 76,000 fans week in, week out, he will be leading the line of one of, if not the biggest club in the world, if this club doesn’t satisfy his needs, then he won’t ever find one. Lukaku will have a big say on the club returning to the heights that are expected at Old Trafford, I personally expect him to be a huge success. Mourinho will expect the best from him and he will expect the special one to bring it out of him. The partnership may not have started on brilliant terms at Chelsea but it certainly has the potential to blossom and finish with United back at the very top.