LONDON – Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata had long seemed the man entrusted to replace the outgoing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it now appears that Everton’s Premier League-proven Romelu Lukaku will spearhead Manchester United’s attack for the upcoming season.
Last season Lukaku became only the fourth player to score 80 or more Premier League goals before the age of 24, all for West Bromwich Albion and Everton, neither of whom have possessed the creative resources of the league’s bigger teams.
United, in recent years, have also struggled in that regard, and their midfielder providers — Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba — mustered just 10 assists between them in the Premier League last season.
Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic tactics did not help matters, but much of the reason why United’s midfield failed to deliver lay with the lack of movement up front.
The majority of Ibrahimovic’s goals were laid on by fellow strikers in the penalty area. The Swede did not possess the legs to make runs down the channels or leave his man for dead — movement that creative midfielders thrive upon.
The story was the same whenever Wayne Rooney, now even more likely to leave after Thursday’s news that United have agreed a deal to sign Lukaku, received a rare opportunity to operate as the front focus.
It is likely to be different with Lukaku, however.
“He’s got a lot of attributes and, playing behind him, you know that once you turn he is going to be making a lot of good runs,” Ross Barkley told Everton’s official website in May.
“You try to find him so he can stick it in the back of the net. He’s a great striker to be playing with.” Lukaku personifies the archetypal athletic forward: Pace, power, lethal with either foot and aerial prowess up there with the very best; the Belgian is a defender’s nightmare.
Such ability is badly needed at Old Trafford. Ibrahimovic aside, United suffered from profligacy last season. Lukaku should correct that. Only Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane outscored him (29 to 25) in the Premier League last season while his two-season goal return made him Everton’s most effective finisher over an extended period since 1970s hero Bob Latchford.
To really become a success at United, though, a player needs a winning mentality, a desire to be very best — an attitude Lukaku seems to have.
“I don’t mind if a defender gets tight or gives me space because I am looking to become a complete player,” he said in an recent interview with FourFourTwo magazine. “And you need to know how to play against either style of defender.”
Whether Lukaku can cope with Mourinho’s demands and the added expectation of the Old Trafford masses remains to be seen, but in terms of raw ability, proven track record and determination to succeed, he has what it takes to turn United into title challengers.