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Manchester United 2018-19 Player Reviews: Romelu Lukaku

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After a promising start, Lukaku’s United career could already be at an end

Manchester United v Southampton FC - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

There’s no way around it: Romelu Lukaku had a really bad season.

He came back from the World Cup bulked up, and no doubt exhausted, and started the season in the exact opposite form as the previous one. He struggled as the rest of the team did, and experienced a lengthy goal drought in the process. apart from a couple games here and there he was largely ineffective for the entire first half of the season.

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived Lukaku struggled to make the team at first, though he had just returned from a brief leave of absence for personal reasons. He played well when he did get the chance, but hit his stride in February and March, scoring 6 goals in a crucial 3 game stretch against Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Paris Saint-Germain when many of United’s attackers were sidelined with injuries. However, not much else went right for him or anyone else in the squad for the rest of the season, and Lukaku’s place in the team again came into question.

Lukaku is another player whose future is in doubt, as Solskjaer has yet to confirm which players in the current side he was talking about when he said there would definitely be exits. His massive transfer fee and wages certainly aren’t balanced by his production, but he is still young, and has shown on more than one occasion what he is capable of. It won’t be much longer until we know for sure, but he’ll have to start performing consistently, or next season could be it for him at Old Trafford. CD

Paris Saint-Germain v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

If some fans were skeptical of Romelu Lukaku’s true quality when he signed for Manchester United two years ago, it was for good reason. The Belgian was a proven commodity in the Premier League, but questions remained over his ability to be a difference-maker against elite opposition. Lukaku’s success in his first season did not quite silence those criticisms, but his goal tally showed that he was a worthy replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimović at the tip of the attack. Lukaku has nowhere near the Swede’s technical ability, but he was a more mobile and dynamic presence, and even showed commendable leadership qualities on the pitch.

Long term, there may have been an acceptance that Lukaku would fall short of being truly top class, but expectations for 2018/19 were that he would continue where he left off in his debut season as a regular source of goals and a reliable presence up front. Unfortunately for United fans though, Lukaku returned for his second campaign at Old Trafford in questionable condition. After reportedly spending the first half of the summer bulking up ahead of Belgium’s World Cup campaign, Lukaku looked like a man who needed to both shed weight and take some time off. A long summer of international duty and the additional weight did nothing for his already suspect first touch, which got worse than ever as the season wore on. Even after slimming somewhat after the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Lukaku’s conditioning never got to an acceptable level. A footballer at his level should not be out of breath 15 minutes after coming off the bench, as Lukaku seemed to be on more than one occasion.

Solskjaer made Marcus Rashford his number one choice upfront almost immediately after taking charge, and even though Lukaku played his part in the second half of the season (it was his goals that started the comeback in Paris, remember), he is clearly not the main man in attack anymore. With a summer of fitness work behind him, Lukaku could well challenge for a starting place again, if not at least become a potentially excellent option from the bench. The striker may feel that he deserves to be a starter under a manager that believes in him however, and as one of the few players in the squad with considerable transfer value that Solskjaer may actually want to sell, it would come as no surprise to see him moved on during the current window. BM