Romelu Lukaku’s brace raises United spirits ahead of crunch week

Romelu Lukaku’s well-taken brace was enough to book Manchester United’s place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Saturday evening, although the main talking point will be the use of the VAR system. With the crunch Champions League last-16 tie away to Sevilla just days away, Jose Mourinho made six changes to the side that suffered a damaging 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United last weekend.

The most notable absentee from the starting XI was Paul Pogba, unavailable due to illness following a week in which the Frenchman’s recent performances have come under intense media scrutiny. Mourinho decided to hand Juan Mata a starting berth as part of United’s three-pronged attack and that decision paid off almost instantly. With the tie just a couple of minutes old, Romelu Lukaku played the ball into the Spaniard, whose perfect return pass sent the Belgian through on goal. Brushing off the attention of Huddersfield defender Christopher Schindler, United’s number nine shifted the ball onto his right foot before firing a low strike past Jonas Lossl and into the net for his 20th goal of the campaign. ]

The early breakthrough did nothing to deter the Terriers though and buoyed on by the home crowd, took the game to United, testing a much-changed back four that had Sergio Romero in between the sticks, rather than first-choice David de Gea. Tom Ince was causing trouble for the Terriers and came close to equalising for the hosts shortly after and later found himself just inches away from putting the ball into the net, as the hosts kept up the pressure. United struggled to keep hold of the ball and create any proper chances of their own, with Lukaku finding service hard to come by up front, whilst Alexis Sanchez was being kept quiet.

Just before the half-time break, however, United did have the ball in the net for a second time, although their joy was to be short-lived. Receiving a pass from the right wing from Ashley Young, Mata rounded Lossl and passed the ball into the empty net, sending the away fans into raptures. Having celebrated the strike and returned to their half, United’s players stood around and waited for referee Kevin Friend to consult the VAR, before ruling that Mata was marginally offside and ruled out the goal.

The Reds went into the half-time interval a goal up without really dominating the game and they nearly conceded an equaliser at the start of the second 45 minutes, with Van La Parra horribly wasting his chance from inside the United box.

Moments later, the Terriers came close to breaching Romero’s goal, but in the blink of an eye, it was 2-0 to United, as Lukaku capped off a swift counter-attack with his sixth goal in his past eight matches. The Belgian found Sanchez in his own half near the halfway line and the Chilean played the most precise of through balls into Lukaku’s path, allowing the former Everton man to place a low, left-footed shot past Lossl. That strike sealed the game for the visitors and turned their attention to Wednesday night’s trip to Spain.