The query would have appeared unthinkable this summer season, while Romelu Lukaku was operating riot on the World Cup for Belgium, however it has arisen all the identical — particularly, ought to he be dropped by Jose Mourinho?
In the previous few weeks, he has lower a annoyed determine, with essential objectives surprisingly eluding a participant of his popularity. After a exceptional begin to his profession at Previous Trafford, throughout which he even drew comparisons in some quarters with Ruud van Nistelrooy, his momentum has slowed a little bit. The Van Nistelrooy parallels had been most correct as far as they associated to the same fashion by which the 2 forwards play — however, extra importantly, the Dutchman was much more ruthless. United have been far beneath their finest in a number of video games this season, and it’s at these moments that an elite striker ought to step forth to rescue them. Sadly, although, Lukaku has of late been discovered wanting. Towards Brighton and Tottenham, he missed very presentable early probabilities that would have modified the course of the sport, which had been then goalless. As an alternative of being a part of the answer in these contests, he grew to become a part of the issue.
Targets haven’t been Lukaku’s solely concern. At his finest, he’s an asset for United as a result of his pace and motion permit his crew to stretch the play, together with his supply from large areas a notable risk — witness, for instance, his elegant cross from which Jesse Lingard headed the winner in opposition to Chelsea in final season’s 2-1 Premier League win at Previous Trafford. But in latest video games his contribution has been restricted, and his approach — usually a barometer of his wider kind — has been unsure. A famously self-critical footballer, he could be reflecting that these are removed from his most interesting performances.
There could also be a longer-term downside, too, one which Opta recognized in February: “None of Romelu Lukaku’s 12 Premier League objectives this season have come in opposition to groups presently within the prime eight. In video games vs. prime eight sides, he is performed 900 minutes and tried 17 photographs with out scoring. … The cumulative Opta xG (anticipated objectives) complete of Lukaku’s 17 photographs in these matches is 2.38, that means participant could be anticipated to attain between 2-Three objectives from these probabilities primarily based on historic common.”
The one technique to dispel accusations that you’re beneath par in massive video games is to attain in them, and United have loads such fixtures coming quickly — of their subsequent six matches, they’ve three away video games in opposition to Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester Metropolis. Lukaku has not made a compelling case for his inclusion — and the one factor that will save him is that he was a part of the ultimate lineup when United clinched their morale-boosting and totally thrilling comeback win in opposition to Newcastle, and that assortment of attacking gamers most likely wants one other few matches to gel right into a decisive pressure.
On this context, it might sound a daring transfer to start out Lukaku on the bench in no less than one in all these video games. It could ship the message that no participant is immune from rotation, or from being dropped if their kind is missing. Whereas that’s arguably a message that gamers at Previous Trafford have lengthy heard loud and clear beneath Mourinho, Lukaku’s poor kind, given the character of his sport, is a mirrored image of United’s poor play as a complete. Being primarily a participant who depends on superb service, he struggles when disadvantaged of it, which is why he can appear on the perimeter of the sport for lengthy intervals. He isn’t, say, a George Weah, who had the talent and superior playmaking to provoke assaults from deep. He’s rather more within the mould of a Tony Cottee, Alan Smith or Gary Lineker, every of whom may need discovered it troublesome to make a lot of an impression in such a aspect.
Although it might do no hurt in the long term to remind Lukaku that he’s topic to the identical guidelines as, say, Anthony Martial, it might not make nice sense to make this rotation now. The stakes are just too excessive and United want a participant of his calibre in these approaching video games — and, crucially, to point out that they belief him. If United make an important present of backing their supervisor within the matches to come back, then the least that Mourinho can do by extension is present that he trusts Lukaku. Given the variety of factors United have dropped of late, a lot of their destiny this season will depend upon what, over the subsequent six video games, the Belgian can produce beneath as extreme a interval of stress as he has confronted at Previous Trafford.