Late winners always make for memorable moments at Manchester United. Romelu Lukaku, United’s £75m no. 9, provided exactly that against Southampton, and got United 3 points for the 2nd time in a matter of days. His 2nd goal of the day, and 4th in 2 straight games, gave United all 3 points in a nervy 3-2 win over Southampton. Then, when United needed his goals the most, he scored yet another brace to keep United alive against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2nd leg, a game United eventually won through Marcus Rashford’s stoppage time penalty conversion. His run ended abruptly against Arsenal, a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates that served as a reminder for the entire squad that there is still a lot to play for in the league. With 8 games to play in the Premier League, and 4 teams intensely competing for 2 spots, Lukaku will need to continue his form. He hasn’t always turned up in big moments, but he’ll need to if he wants to keep the team and his own career at the club on track.
So far this season, Lukaku has scored 15 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United. Most of the goals have come against opposition that don’t really match up to United in quality. Goals are always needed against all opponents, but Lukaku has had enough trouble getting on the scoresheet against the minnows this season, let alone top sides. His woeful scoring record against top teams is a problem considering how big of an investment the club has made in him. The only other big games he’s scored in were last season against Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Sevilla. Real Madrid and Sevilla were each 2-1 losses for United in which Lukaku failed to capitalize for much of the game, but his goal and assist in a 2-1 comeback win over Chelsea in the league at Old Trafford was certainly his most impressive performance against a top club until the PSG match.
Lukaku had lost his permanent starter status by the time José Mourinho was sacked in December, and his return to Belgium for family matters kept him out of the squad for the first 2 games under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Marcus Rashford’s form up top kept Lukaku out of the starting 11 until injuries hit the squad hard, setting the stage for his 6 goals in 3 games. However, United’s season and Lukaku’s future with the club are not guaranteed safety, and there is still a lot that can happen in the last 2 months of the season.
For one, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply must secure Champions League football for next season before he can be considered for the long term manager’s role. No matter how stunning his impact has been over the last 3 months, the expectation of Champions League qualification has been standard for every manager since Sir Alex Ferguson, and it’s not likely to change. Squad depth down the stretch is always crucial, and having someone with the quality of Romelu Lukaku on the bench for most of his tenure has been a blessing for Solskjaer. It’s almost a certainty that he will need Lukaku to continue his good form, and Lukaku also has something to prove to his new manager.
Much has been made of Lukaku’s future with the club after a poor campaign under Mourinho, and even with the injection of life Solskjaer has brought, Lukaku has only been a starter when squad rotation or injuries call for it. His inconsistent scoring record hasn’t helped him, and the emergence of Martial and Rashford as the first attacking options could see the club try and cash in on Lukaku before his value drops further. Lukaku has taken advantage of his opportunities in recent games, but for the sake of his United career he cannot afford to slip up again down the stretch.
It’s squeaky bum time for Lukaku and United. He needs to justify his place in the team to Solskjaer in order to both keep his job and let his manager keep his.