Romelu Lukaku’s drop off in production has been well documented. After starting the season like a house on fire, Manchester United’s number 9 has just 3 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions. While his form has picked up of late, it’s been clear for some time that Lukaku is in need of a rest. José Mourinho has admitted that he’s running Lukaku into the ground, but does not believe that he can afford to give the Belgian any time off.
“No, I can't [give Lukaku a rest]. Now, I say 20 matches in the Premier League, 90 minutes [for Romelu]. I think for a striker, for any player, [it] is absolutely incredible. But if you are central defender, if you are a holding midfield player, if you are in certain kinds of positions where you can control your energy and positional play a little bit more, you can resist and survive.”
Mourinho continues to appreciate the striker’s overall contribution, and refuses to criticize Lukaku for his role in conceding goals as of late.
"But, for a striker in the Premier League, to play 20 matches, 90 minutes, I have to be very grateful for his personality and for his character. He's been unlucky in our box in recent matches. He was in the picture, I'm not saying he was a direct influence, in some of the latest goals we conceded. It's a consequence of a player who really needs a little rest or just a consequence of the moment of the occasion. But the guy is fantastic for me and the team and gives absolutely everything and I have no criticisms."
The experiment of playing Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimović together lasted just 45 minutes against Burnley, and appears to be over for the time being. Lukaku is knackered, and Ibrahimović is still working his way back into match sharpness.
“It can happen but, for it to happen, they both need to be in their best moment and they are not. One is not because the situation in this team didn't allow him to have any rest and is giving absolutely everything in every minute and we just managed to give him a little rest in cup matches and, even so, he was on the bench for emergency situations.”
“The Champions League was about the same - we had to fight until the last match for qualification and the boy is tired. He's physically a monster but he's not a machine and I think he's feeling it. And Zlatan is a man with an incredible injury, an injury that a 20-year-old man or a 20-year-old young man would suffer [from]. Imagine a man who is 37 years old and so many miles in high-level football, so it's not easy. We did that [play the two together] against Burnley and we will do that in some more matches if we need to do it, but I think for both of them to play together, we really need them to be at their best level."