Romelu Lukaku has been scoreless as of late and has been receiving some harsh criticism from fans and pundits alike about his finishing ability. However, Lukaku has still been a critical and vital player for United this season even though he has not been scoring. Although scoring goals is what they are hired for, being a forward in professional football is about much more than just scoring a lot of goals. Lukaku has been contributing to the team’s success in other ways during this goal drought and these contributions are what still make him a top striker despite being scoreless.
Since playing Liverpool on October 14th, Lukaku has only scored twice, once in league play and once in the Champions League. That’s 2 goals in 14 games total. In that same time, Lukaku has 3 assists, 13 key passes, and 9 accurate long balls, per WhoScored.com. These are stats that one would associate more with an Attacking Midfielder than a true number 9. However, it is these types of contributions that make Lukaku such a vital part of the starting 11.
There have been several games in this time frame where Lukaku has spent a significant amount of time in the midfield than in the final third. This type of offensive contribution has allowed other players, like Anthony Martial, to really thrive on the wings because they are getting fed balls in the box from Lukaku when they cut inside, rather than having to stay wide and continuously cross the ball or dribble themselves in. This type of key passing and creative mindset is something that Mourinho has been wanting since he landed at Manchester United.
Last season, there were a few games where Mkhitaryan lined up as the striker on paper, but was really there to play more of a False 9 to supplement the wings. Obviously, Mkhitaryan could not fill that spot, but Lukaku has. Lukaku has brought to United a player that has a clinical finishing ability, but also a player that can supplement the team with his keen creative vision and passing ability that has helped United massively outscore their opponents.
Lukaku’s extended time in the midfield this season has contributed to his key passes and assists count, but he also has been phenomenal in his defensive contributions. This has been less vital than his hold-up play has been, but still deserves somewhat of an honorable mention. Tracking back to help defend is not something all strikers do very naturally, but Lukaku has seemed committed to helping his side recover the ball this season. You can tell that he has not spent much time playing defense, as some of his defensive contributions have actually helped teams score, but being an extra body back in United’s own third has helped tremendously in stopping attacks and counter-attacking quickly.
The bottom line is that Lukaku needs to start scoring more goals when key players, like Paul Pogba, are injured. However, in the meantime, being able to contribute offensively in other ways has helped United dominate the Premier League this term and win their group in the Champions League.