Here’s a midweek hot take: I think Ed Woodward is doing a great handling the Romelu Lukaku negotiations. United want £80 million for the striker (£5m of any fee would go to Everton and United want to recoup the £75 they paid for him).
Internazionale are offering less than that. They know Lukaku doesn’t fit into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. They know the striker wants to leave. It should be cut and dry; If you’re United you don’t want an uncommitted player wallowing around your club.
United fans have mixed opinions about Lukaku. Some love him, some not so much. I’m very much on record as being part of the latter group. At the end of May, I did a ton of research trying to figure out just exactly what Lukaku is. It’s one of the highest trafficked posts on my blog, and I ultimately concluded that he’s the best second tier striker out there. He’s just not the top tier striker United need.
Selling Lukaku would be the best for all parties. Lukaku doesn’t want to spend a season in his prime on the bench. United could surely benefit from clearing his lofty wages off their books. But that doesn’t mean they have to sell him and Woodward should be commended for not balking at his asking price. Despite everything I’ve written about the Belgian, he can still help United win this year.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as United manager in December there was a noticeable change in how United played. They were now going to press teams and run on them. They featured a dynamic front three of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Anthony Martial.
United were at their best playing this way until injury and fatigue caught up to them. They didn’t have anyone else who could step into the front three and play that style.
That exposed United’s biggest problem: they could only play one way. Lukaku doesn’t fit that style and the rest of the team didn’t fit the style that best suits Lukaku.
This preseason wasn’t just about rebuilding the players on the team and gaining fitness. It was about building a team that can play in multiple styles when the time calls for it.
Title winning teams don’t win every match 4-0. They win a lot of matches 4-0 but what separates the title winners from third or fourth is their ability to find a breakthrough and win 1-0 when things aren’t going well.
Over the past few years, whether it was under Solskjaer, José Mourinho, or Louis van Gaal United had one way of playing. Home or away, big club or small club, the team played with the same tactics week in week out.
For the most part, they did fine against the big clubs. Yes, there were some embarrassing duds in there, but there were also big wins that were equally embarrassing for their opponents.
What separated United from the title race wasn’t their performance against the rest of the top four. It was consistently being inconsistent against the minnows of the league. Failing to beat the Burnleys and West Broms at home. Losing to all three newly promoted sides. Being the only Premier League team to not win at Huddersfield.
When teams thwarted United’s initial plan they had no answer. Marouane Fellaini’s 12 Premier League goals wasn’t much of a Plan B.
How does Lukaku fit into this? Solskjaer is building a team that can play multiple styles.
Daniel James is a pacy winger who can play as part of Solskjaer’s dynamic font three, or as a traditional winger who can provide service to Lukaku. It may only be preseason but Mason Greenwood has been giving the Reds a legitimate right wing option that they haven’t had in quite some time.
Ultimately that high pressing style is going to be Solskjaer’s preference this season, which is why Lukaku knows he won’t be first choice. But with the ability to change styles, Solskjaer could sporadically pick when to unleash Lukaku.
We already know Lukaku thrives against teams outside the top six. He’s at his best against mid table teams that have a go against United. With new options out wide, Soskjaer can bring in Lukaku to provide a different look for United, and provide much needed rest to either Rashford or Martial.
Playing Lukaku requires United to change the way they play when he’s on the field, which is something the club is now more equipped to handle. They’ll be able to change their tactics and shape based on who their opponents are. Instead of trotting out the front three that benefits from pressing and running, they can change their style of play, and keep the pressers fresh for the matches when they’ll need them.
As I mentioned before, United’s biggest issue in recent years wasn’t at the top, it was inconsistency against the rest of the league that killed them. It was against teams that liked to sit back and defend. Whereas runners and counter attackers Rashford and Martial struggle in these games, Lukaku dominates these teams.
At the start of Solskjaer’s reign, Lukaku found success coming off the bench. While it’s not his ideal role, it still a far better plan B than bringing on Fellaini and having everyone try to hoof the ball to him.
All of this of course requires Lukaku to buy in to Solskjaer’s plan, something that he has not yet done. At the moment selling Lukaku is still the move that benefits everyone.
If no sale happens Lukaku can still play a significant role for United this year. This isn’t a sell at all cost situation (like Alexis Sánchez), and Ed Woodward should be commended for not wavering.