The Belgian striker remains the focal point of the Red Devils’ attack, with his exploits proving vital to Jose Mourinho and an inconsistent side
Why always Romelu Lukaku?
That question has irked Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho since he invested £75 million ($97m) in a proven goalscorer back in the summer of 2017.
Despite boasting few out-and-out strikers on his books, the Red Devils boss has been forced to defend his selections at regular intervals.
He really shouldn’t have to.
Lukaku may have endured the odd dip during his debut campaign – going seven games without a goal at one stage as he netted just once in 12 outings – but nobody else has got close to matching his output.
With that in mind, Mourinho finally snapped at the constant probing of his reliance on the Belgium international after seeing Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford toil during a 1-0 defeat to Brighton back in May.
He said: “For 10 months I get asked ‘why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always this player? That guy doesn’t have a chance to start, the other one is on the bench’. You know why now.”
When the 25-year-old frontman deemed himself to be not fit enough to start the 2018 FA Cup final his manager was less than impressed , and for good reason.
Without their go-to goal-getter, as Lukaku saw just 17 minutes off the bench, United slipped to disappointing 1-0 defeat against Chelsea at Wembley.
Since that outing, pressure has built steadily on Mourinho.
Few fresh faces were brought in over the summer, with no forward-thinking additions made during the last transfer window , with United prepared/forced to keep faith with those already on their books.
That meant Lukaku, who made it to the final weekend of the 2018 World Cup as Belgium beat England in a third-place play-off, was drafted back into the fold quicker than expected and figured off the bench in a Premier League season opener against Leicester.
He has managed three goals after being returned to the starting line-up in a defeat at Brighton, with a priceless brace recorded last time out against Burnley as United and Mourinho recovered from a shaky start to the campaign to offer renewed hope.
If they are to kick on from this point, then an ‘always Lukaku’ selection policy will remain in place.
His crucial contribution at Turf Moor took his overall goal tally for United to 30 in 55 appearances.
Those efforts have been spread across 26 games, with the Red Devils’ record in those contests reading: won 22, drew one, lost three.
When Lukaku does not trouble the scorers, which has happened on 29 occasions, Mourinho’s men have collected just 14 victories, five stalemates and 10 defeats.
Their win percentage when the fearsome No. 9 finds the target stands at 84.6, but dips dramatically to 48.3% when he draws a blank.
Lukaku’s value to the collective cause cannot be overstated, with it clear that he is the man to provide much needed inspiration, with a talismanic standing secured despite being the focal point in a side which can struggle to provide a regular supply line.
United legend Andy Cole told MUTV in April : “It is difficult to be a lone striker and especially if you don’t get the service at times. It could be described as the graveyard shift because it is very, very tough.
“Sometimes people have questioned Romelu and said he has not done this or that, but you have to be brutally honest: if you don’t get the service as a lone man then it is very, very tough. That is why I keep saying he has done very well. I am not saying we create a million and one chances for the boy either. He has done really well and fair play to him for his goal return.”
Mourinho will be desperate to find a way of creating more openings for Lukaku.
With the shadow of former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane reported to be looming large over the Portuguese tactician , he needs somebody to help turn the lights out on such speculation.
Lukaku has shown himself to be the man for the job. It is, after all, always him.
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