Under Pressure: United need Lukaku to be ruthless against Liverpool

Manchester United’ Romelu Lukaku is overdue a big game against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool
Manchester United’ Romelu Lukaku is overdue a big game against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool

Romelu Lukaku has started his Manchester United career better, even, than Gabriel Heinze did. Heinze scored on his debut to help secure a 2-2 draw against Bolton. From there, he impressed in his first season with his tireless aggression, until he ultimately ruined his reputation by trying to join Liverpool. Lukaku will have the chance to make his name against the same club.

For while he has scored at a relentless rate since the start of the season, scoring 11 goals in 10 games so far, he has not had to this against anyone particularly good.

United have benefitted from an easy start to the season. The toughest teams they have come up against are Southampton and Everton, and Lukaku scored against them both to help his side secure victories.

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They have only failed once, when they drew against Stoke City, and even then he contributed a goal. Lukaku has exceeded expectations for United, and he has achieved something that perhaps only Robin van Persie has in recent memory. He arrived at United in form, and with an impressive reputation, but he has used the improved circumstances and service to take his game on yet further.

Lukaku has embraced life at Old Trafford as an opportunity to fulfil his ambitions. Van Persie got his league title, and perhaps Lukaku will get the same now that Jose Mourinho has turned United from a team of has-beens and mediocrity into one where excellence is demanded, if not always achieved.

Lukaku and Mourinho apparently did not fall out over the striker’s decision to leave Chelsea in search of first team football, and they appear to have a perfectly functioning relationship right now.

Lukaku has finally been given the responsibility for one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and he has not been cowed by the task.

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But, being reasonable, it has been easy so far. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford to help out, he has been provided regular opportunities to score. The quality of opposition he has faced has made his job relatively easy, too. Things could now be about to change, and given Lukaku’s performances against United in the past, the demands placed upon him can start to be properly examined.

Marcus Rashford has been one of many players setting up chances for Lukaku
Marcus Rashford has been one of many players setting up chances for Lukaku

It is true that last season, United failed to beat the doggerel in the league as often as they should have. There were too many draws, the attacks were too slow, and there was a Louis van Gaal hangover that took months to be cleared. It meant that United were vulnerable if their defence failed to concentrate for a whole match, something that happened to regularly.

While they qualified for the Champions League through their Europa League success, had the players done their jobs a little better and dispatched some of the mid-table guff they had to play against, they might well not have needed to wait until the last minute to confirm their return to the biggest competition in football. Liverpool and Arsenal were flailing around for much of last season, and United failed to take advantage.


Lukaku has solved the problem here. His reliability in front of goal, his intelligence to make the right runs and to use his strength at the right time, means that midfielders have something to aim at and defenders have something to distract them. If it is not Lukaku scoring, it is Lukaku making the opposition work, think, and have the opportunity to make errors for others to exploit. It is not solely down to Lukaku, obviously, but he is at the forefront of the change in United’s attitude and effectiveness this season. And this is great for United – to a point.

When United used to come up against Lukaku, even if he was playing against Daley Blind – Daley Blind – he struggled to make a dent. United’s defence has never been the worst in the league, but the predictable errors from Jones and Chris Smalling, or the failure to track runners by Michael Carrick and others, meant that even Paul Dickov could have found a way through, much as his modern day incarnation, Jamie Vardy, did often enough.

Romelu Lukaku failed to make an impression against United even when against Daley Blind
Romelu Lukaku failed to make an impression against United even when against Daley Blind

Not Lukaku though. He never made the impact that he should have against United or, in truth, against the best sides.

Liverpool might not be one of the best sides in the league right now but when Jurgen Klopp’s side gets it right, they can slalom through any defence and they can leave their opponents searching for a rest, and looking for a chance to get two passes together in their own half, let alone Liverpool’s.

With United carrying a few injuries, if Liverpool play to their suffocating best then his role as the focal point of attack, potentially isolated from Rashford, Mata and Mkhitaryan on defensive duties, becomes so much more difficult.

This is what Lukaku has to show has changed and will stay changed. His touch is not as bad as has been made out, but it will have to become a strength, not a weakness. His occasional fluffed lines in front of goal are just that, occasional, but in games where you are afforded one chance against title rivals, they can’t be stumbled over.

Lukaku has been brilliant for United in favourable circumstances so far, but against Liverpool he will have to demonstrate that he can do it by himself.