MANCHESTER: Romelu Lukaku will come under close scrutiny when he faces former club Everton on Sunday, looking to kick start a season that is rapidly turning into a disappointment for him and his Manchester United team alike.
The Belgian international was widely criticised after United were beaten 1-0 at home by Juventus in midweek, extending his goal drought to eight games.
The 25-year-old, signed by United from Everton for £75 million ($96 million) in the summer of 2017, remains a force of nature on the international stage, having scored five times for his country in just four internationals already this season.
At this stage last season he had scored five times in three Belgium games, but he had also netted a remarkable 11 goals in 13 appearances for his club.
Lukaku’s output for United has dropped off alarmingly this season, with just four goals in his 13 outings for Jose Mourinho’s side.
Mourinho admitted after the Juventus game that Lukaku was struggling but on Friday at his pre-match press conference he backed Lukaku to bounce back.
“I always feel that,” said Mourinho. “I always feel the next game is the game.
“I feel that every game. One day it will be and one day he will score, and one day his confidence levels will be back to normal.”
One of the reasons Lukaku is still in the side, though, is that Mourinho is short of options up front.
“Could I play (Marcus) Rashford there? But then I don’t have a winger because in this moment we are in a difficult situation,” said Mourinho.
– ‘Players need to know me’ –
How United supporters must hope that they see the version of Lukaku who performed so remarkably for an often average Everton side in his three years at Goodison, ending his career there with a record of 53 league goals from just 104 starts.
Many observers have noted how Lukaku is physically much larger now than in his days on Merseyside, the result, it is believed, of time spent in the gym concentrating on adding muscle.
Some pundits have claimed the added heft has dulled his sharpness in and around the penalty area although Lukaku himself has a different explanation for his drop in productivity.
“With Belgium I’ve been playing for 10 years, since I was 16. Players know me much more,” said Lukaku this week.
“Here I still think my teamwork between myself and my teammates can improve and be much better. It’s something that we’re working on.
“The players need to know me and know my movement. When that starts clicking I think the results I have with Belgium will also come here.”
Lukaku’s claim that he is still integrating himself into the United line-up, 15 months after his arrival at Old Trafford, seems a dubious one.
However, with no other recognised, traditional number nine currently in Mourinho’s squad, the United manager can only hope he rediscovers his form quickly.
Mourinho’s lack of options at the centre-forward position, should he want to play his preferred 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, remains glaring despite having spent heavily on his squad during his more than two years in charge.
Rashford or Anthony Martial are possibilities, as is out of form Chilean Alexis Sanchez although the former Arsenal forward is sidelined for Sunday with a groin injury. —AFP