It is no secret that Romelu Lukaku has struggled in a Manchester United jersey this season. The Belgium centre forward might have four Premier League goals to his name, but he has failed to find the back of the net in his last nine appearances in all competitions.
Lukaku, who enjoyed an astute first season in Manchester last year, has had a lack of confidence in front of goal this campaign so far and looks out of sorts with his overall play. José Mourinho finally made the decision against Lukaku’s former club, Everton, to drop the striker to the bench for the very first time which really sent out a statement to the Belgian. Marcus Rashford took his place leading the line and United’s attack flowed more fluidly when transitioning from defence into attack.
After scoring 27 goals in all competitions and recording nine assists for the Red Devils last year, it was expected that Lukaku would kick on this season and improve on those numbers – especially on his 16 goals in the Premier League. However, for one reason or another, Lukaku’s form has plummeted somewhat and he seldom looks the same striker. As the old saying goes, form is temporary and class is permanent, but it is a cause for concern among the United faithful that their £75 million centre forward is going through such a dry patch.
This has led to discussions regarding who would take his place as the spearhead of United’s attack. Rashford, as he did against the Toffees, is a candidate to lead the line, but his vulnerabilities in a one-on-one situation does not promote belief in the Stretford End.
At this moment in time, and he is only 20-years-old with a lot more experience to be gained, the England international is not clinical in front of goal – he has squandered too many chances and lacks the same edge when faced with a golden opportunity as his team-mate Anthony Martial.
Rashford, under Mourinho, has found himself on the wing more often than not, and he has looked comfortable. Against Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, Rashford put in his best performance of the season on the right wing, linking up well with Juan Mata in the playmaker’s role and Lukaku.
Similarly to Lukaku, Rashford, though, has had a goal drought at Old Trafford and last found the back of the net at home back in May just before the end of the season. The Englishman also has only scored once in all competitions this season, which does not fill you with the greatest belief that he can be tasked with the opportunity to become the main goalscorer in the team – especially when the club is under pressure.
The other candidate is Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean is currently injured and has not been in the best form since arriving from Arsenal on a free transfer in January, but he returned to goalscoring ways against Newcastle United by finding the winner. When trialled in the centre forward’s role throughout pre-season, Sánchez looked adept and was flourishing running in behind the last man and constantly stretching the opposition’s defence.
With more experience to his name and having done it at Barcelona and Arsenal, Sánchez is capable of leading the line for Manchester United. He will need to rekindle his old scoring ways as he did for the Gunners, but his goal against the Magpies should fill him with confidence. As soon as he returns from injury, it is important to involve him in Cup competitions and give him that opportunity.
While he is not the biggest or tallest, Sánchez possesses raw speed and ingenuity when getting around defenders. Lukaku’s size is constantly talked about a positive, but it can also be a negative due to his clumsiness at times as well as taking him longer to get up to full speed.
With Paul Pogba on the ball in a deeper role in midfield, he will always look for the pass over the defence for the striker to run through on goal. With Lukaku, this rarely comes off, but with Sánchez’s acceleration, it certainly stands more of a chance of happening.
In Sánchez’s 25 games playing as the centre forward for Arsenal throughout the 2016/17 season, the Chile international scored 19 goals and assisted his team-mates 11 times. A whopping 30 goal contributions in 25 matches in all competitions is an unbelievable rate that Manchester United fans will be envious of due to his underwhelming performances so far.
Mourinho has opted for Sánchez on the left wing ever since coming to Old Trafford, but with Martial’s resurgence in form, at no point should the Portuguese continue to play Sánchez there. As seen in majority of the Chilean’s performances, he is continually looking to cut inside and play through the middle, taking on players and finding solutions to get into advantageous areas. Mourinho needs to give him his chance as the club’s centre forward.
There might be a cause for rotation to begin with due to Sánchez and Rashford’s inconsistencies, as well as Lukaku being involved, but Mourinho should seriously consider playing the once prolific Chilean through the middle to add a different dimension to Manchester United’s attack.
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