Romelu Lukaku gives timely reminder of his quality with brace against Crystal Palace

Goal droughts

After an excellent World Cup with Belgium, Manchester United supporters will have been purring at the prospect of having an acclimatised Romelu Lukaku leading their line for the 2018/19 season.

Following a solid debut season that saw him net 27 goals in all competitions, 16 of which came in the Premier League, there were high hopes for the Belgian as United looked to close the gap between themselves and Manchester City.

Yet that was not forthcoming, as United’s slow start to the campaign left them almost immediately out of the title race, with Liverpool and Manchester City both winning games at a relentless pace.

Last season he appeared in 34 of United’s 38 games in the Premier League and was rarely left out of the team when fit, with Jose Mourinho keen to have his physical presence leading the line. Lukaku himself made a decent enough start, scoring four goals in his first four Premier League outings, but then went 12 games without a goal in all competitions before finally bringing it to an end against Southampton in December.

Following Mourinho’s sacking, the former Everton striker did score in each of his first three games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but has still been unable to establish himself as a regular in the starting XI.

Whilst he has been on the sidelines for much of recent weeks, Marcus Rashford has become the main man in attack, flourishing when playing as a centre-forward, opportunities that often weren’t afforded to him when Lukaku was Mourinho was in charge.

Rashford has six goals and two assists since Solskjaer was appointed as manager, while the United attack as a whole has looked far more fluid and dangerous with the pace of Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

Marcus Rashford

The forgotten man

Solskjaer clearly has a preference of slick, fast attacking football over the physical style Lukaku provides, leaving him to settle for a place on the bench alongside Alexis Sanchez, both of whom were Mourinho signings.

It resembles more the style which has given great success to Liverpool and City this season, who have the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane and Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane in their front threes respectively.

That appears to be the direction in which United are heading, particularly if Solskjaer is given the job on a permanent basis at the end of the season as most anticipate will take place. Lukaku has this week been linked with a move to Juventus in the summer and has previously spoken of his desire to play in Italy at some stage of his career.

The slower style of play in Italy could well be better-suited for Lukaku, who has bulked up significantly in the last 12 months. The opinion of most indicates it's been a change that has inhibited rather than help to progress his career.

Lukaku himself has commented on the change in weight, saying in December: "I added a little bit of muscle at the World Cup," Lukaku said. "I just felt great and I think I played great over there [in Russia], but when I came back it is a different style of football.

"In the Premier League I cannot play with the same amount of muscle as I do in international football.

"When I came back I knew straight away, I cannot play in this style. I had to lose muscle basically. So you just stay out of the gym, drink a lot of water, eat a lot of vegetables and fish and it helps."

Sanchez Lukaku

Time to make an impact

United have 10 games left between now and the end of the season to get themselves back in the top four, with the team currently just one point shy of Arsenal who rose to fourth after winning their last three matches.

Through all of United’s injury problems, they were able to secure three points on Wednesday night in huge part thanks to Lukaku, who scored twice to end his nine-game drought at Selhurst Park, winning 3-1 against Crystal Palace.

The goals came via two excellent finishes, first with his right foot after bending the ball into the far corner from the edge of the box before then showing great agility to flick the ball home from close range in the second half.

Doing so after missing an excellent chance in the first half is a great sign for Lukaku, as he was able to mentally get over his missed opportunity and score his ninth and tenth goals in the Premier League of the season.

The 25-year-old has reached double figures in the Premier League in each of the last seven seasons and now has a return of 26 goals in 59 appearances for United in the league, averaging just over a goal every other game. It's a decent return, although it is just one more than he managed in his final season with Everton in 2016/17 where he netted 25 times in 37 games.

That pedigree should not be forgotten and Lukaku hasn’t scored 94 goals in the last seven Premier League seasons without good reason. Still, on his day, Lukaku can be one of the most difficult forwards to play against in this country and offers United a different way of playing in attack, something most teams don’t have.

Few rival teams in the Premier League can boast a back-up striker as prolific as Lukaku, though he will be keen to build on Wednesday’s performance and establish himself back in the starting lineup once again.

United still have the top four and FA Cup to play for and Lukaku can play a big role in their potential success in both.

Manchester United Lukaku Lingard
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