Romelu Lukaku has had to put up with a lot of criticism since his £75 million move from Everton to Manchester United at the start of the summer.
Some of it has been completely over the top and as a United fan I’ve spent a fair bit of time sticking up for the big Belgian over recent months. A lot of it of course has much to do the modern day fascination with knee-jerk reactions, and with the current media being more obsessed with what a player can’t do, as opposed to what he can.
One area of Lukaku’s game that has really frustrated me however, has been his link-up play. His first touch does leave a lot to be desired in tight situations, and at this level one bad touch by a focal point striker can kill a counter-attack in an instant.
Most worryingly of all however, is that there have been times this season when he has simply looked slow in terms of his reaction speed, and so often defenders are able to simply nip in front of him and intercept the ball. Jose Mourinho’s defensive approach has been hugely criticised aswell this season, but the Portuguese coach has had huge success with this tactical approach in the past, although it is dependent on having a striker capable of holding up the ball and bringing others into play.
Sadly for United this weakness has been a factor – not the only one obviously – in them barely being able to get up the pitch in the big away games they have played this season.
In all honesty, Chelsea don’t operate a game plan that is too dissimilar from Mourinho’s sides’, the biggest difference when watching them this season has been Alvaro Morata’s ability to control the ball when under pressure and bring his teams other attackers into play.
Therefore, I have been delighted to see a massive improvement in this facet of play from Lukaku in recent weeks. In United’s disastrous 2-2 draw against Leicester just before xmas, he laid on guilt edged chances for Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial with slick through balls. Sadly for Lukaku his team-mates forgot to bring their shooting boots to the King Power.
If that performance was an indication that the striker was improving, his display against Stoke at Old Trafford last night was even more encouraging.
The Belgium international’s first-touch was on point, he was full of intelligent running down the channels that opened up spaces for his team-mates, and he played a couple of beautiful flicks that set United up on dangerous attacks. Whenever the ball was either played into his area or even broke in and around him he looked sharp, and was very rarely beaten to the ball by defenders that in reality with his kind of physical presence he should be swatting off like flies.
Lukaku then of course rounded off his performance with a tidy finish that showcased his immense strength, power, and finishing ability.
Last nights strike brought his total for the season to 11 goals and 4 assists in 22 Premier League appearances. Which really isn’t that bad for a player in his first year for a major club, and also being asked to play more games in quick succession than he has ever experienced before in his career.
Maybe, just maybe, a young player like Lukaku might just improve on the weaknesses in his game if given a little bit of time and patience.