We take a look at Romelu Lukaku and the importance of the Tottenham fixture in context of his Manchester United career.
Romelu Lukaku has had a brilliant start to his Manchester United career. There were doubts over his pedigree and mentality to lead the line of a club as big as Manchester United. But, he has coped with it well, firing in goals whenever asked upon. However, in what is set to be the biggest test of the club, there is a negative vibe surrounding the player’s impact.
Despite his thunderous start – 11 goals in 14 appearances in all competitions – form seems to have eluded the Belgian recently. Goalless after the latest international break for Manchester United, his club’s fortunes have replicated the striker’s form, with Manchester United failing to win a Premier League game post-break.
The Liverpool game could be excused as a matter of a tactical ploy by Jose Mourinho. But, even then, a case could be made for the miss which could have seen United pocket all three points on the day despite a dogged and timid display. It was something Mourinho had played for and the Portuguese would have relied on his striker to score.
But, Lukaku failed to convert a chance Mourinho’s go-to men at other clubs had pounced upon – a trait that saw Mourinho get the best results out from the toughest of fixtures. If the Liverpool game was to be counted as a one-off, the Benfica game was certainly where the Belgian struggled.
In fact, if not for the weirdly swerving Marcus Rashford free-kick and the inexperience of UEFA Champions League’s youngest goalkeeper Mile Svilar, United would have posted another 0-0. But, Lukaku’s failure to kick his team on was truly realised against Huddersfield.
While the defence did have its moments – two to be precise – it was Lukaku who once again failed to find the back of the net. And with the mega bucks spent on the Belgian coupled with the pressure on him to perform, especially with Marcus Rashford being played out wide to accommodate the striker, pitchforks were bound to be readied.
The 2-0 win against Swansea may have eased the atmosphere in the dressing room. But, it did nothing but pile more pressure on Lukaku, who was largely absent during the 20 or so odd minutes he came on. A game where Jesse Lingard made a case for more regular inclusion, Lukaku looked to be showing signs of a rut.
United have not had many ‘big’ matches this season, with Liverpool being perhaps the only one. You doubt, though, that any match would be more important for Lukaku in his Manchester United journey than the Tottenham fixture over the weekend.
While the match in itself is important, with Tottenham a direct title rival, the form of the two teams coupled with the increasing pressure on Lukaku to prove his big-game temperament makes the early Saturday kickoff game one of the biggest for United and Lukaku this season, at least.
Yes, Lukaku has scored against big teams and is not ‘just a flat-track bully’ as termed by pundits. But, there is a certain air of expectancy – a rather negative one – regarding Lukaku’s ability to have an impact on Saturday. Some have already written the striker off for the Tottenham game – always a troubling predicament be it any player, any position or any sport for that matter.
You know for certain, though, that inability to find the back of the net on Saturday, let alone all three points, will only pile more pressure on Lukaku – not a good thing considering Zlatan is nearing his date of renaissance.
In Kane, he is up against a player who has always been the more accomplished adversary, at least since the two strikers have been able to establish themselves as potent strikers. It is worthy to note that Harry Kane was struggling to get game time on loan when Romelu Lukaku was hailed as the next striking sensation to grace Europe.
Almost everyone is now well-versed with Kane’s ability to turn a game on its head, something Lukaku is yet to show, at least in United colours. On Saturday, for once in his yet-early United career, he will not be the focus of attention, which is surely to be on Harry Kane.
Yet it is something Lukaku can use to his advantage. Use the pent-up anger and frustration of the recent dry run towards proving his doubters wrong. Perhaps, more than the doubters, he has to prove himself wrong. For, even to his own damning assessment, he has been a bit goal-shy against the cream of the pile.
The start at United has been good but has hit a bit of a snag. Just ‘a good performance’ against Tottenham will not be enough now. Fans, pundits, the coach and the player himself will want a goal on Saturday.
Come Saturday, we may see the echoes of United and Lukaku critics getting louder with a lacklustre result. Or, we may just see Romelu Lukaku silence his doubters and United silence their own.
United fans would hope it’s the latter. And with good gumption.