Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku is finally the player he always wanted to be

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Maybe all Romelu Lukaku needed was a manager who believed in him in order to get the best out of the Belgian. Because there can be little doubt that Lukaku has just gone a few levels up over the past few weeks.

Lukaku has always been able to plug goals away even at Everton he was able to make an impact where he scored 25 league goals in his final season with the club. It was that season that prompted United to spend upwards of £75m on bringing him to Old Trafford.

Lukaku repaid in his debut season knocking in 27 goals and it meant a lot to a player who was now being coached by Jose Mourinho, the same manager that discarded him at Chelsea and sold him to Everton. Lukaku had worked so hard that he was able to say with his goals, that Mourinho had indeed made a mistake in selling him in the first place. Now both worked together, but Lukaku didn’t look like a happy man under the Portuguese. That has changed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer though.

In Lukaku’s last 3 games for Manchester United he has scored 6 goals- 2 in each game. He got the winner against Crystal Palace where United ended up winning 3-1. Then surprisingly they struggled against Southampton at home, having to come back from a goal down. With the match poised at 2-2, Lukaku got the winner- another three points which took the Red Devils back into the top 4.

But Lukaku’s crowning moment would be saved for the Champions League, this is the competition that the 25 year old wanted to play in and to prove himself. It’s all very well scoring some goals in group games, but you can be judged harshly for not delivering in the knock out rounds when it really matters. Lukaku delivered.

United had lost the first leg against PSG 2-0 at home, still Solskjaer’s only defeat as United boss in almost 3 months in charge. The club looked dead and buried, game over. And yet there was hope and positivity in the ranks, even Sir Alex Ferguson flew out with the team to support them.

What happened was a bit of history for the side- who went on to win 3-1 in Paris. No club had come back in the Champions League from a 2-0 home 1st leg match, that all changed and Lukaku was at the heart of it.

He opened the scoring after just two minutes and then scored again to put his side 2-1 up. But he had proven that he could now score at the highest level and will be certain to start more games for the club against the best teams.

It feels like Lukaku has been around forever, but at only 25 he is yet to reach the peak of his potential, and he has his best years ahead of him. It really could have gone either way for him, a good player never reaching his potential, but with the right coach it feels like the best of Lukaku is yet to come and that should be frightening for any of United’s rivals.

EPL Game of the Weekend – Man Utd vs Southampton

lukakuWhen Man Utd parted company with Jose Mourinho back in December and brought in club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a caretaker basis, many assumed this was little more than a nostalgia act – a chance to see Ole back at the club for a time while the hierarchy went about searching for a permanent successor to the Portuguese boss. However, in the time since Solskjaer’s return, United have gone on a run of 13 wins in 16 matches, tasting defeat only once – and this run of form has led many to assume that the 46-year-old will be given the job on a permanent basis at some point between now and the start of the 2019-20 campaign. This past weekend, the Red Devils welcomed Southampton to Old Trafford in what would turn out to be a modern-day classic game. Continue reading

EPL Best XI – Week 29

pereiraThis past weekend saw no less than three local derbies in the Premier League, with two of them winding up as draws. Of the six clubs involved in these three games only Chelsea triumphed, toppling Scott Parker’s Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage. It was a spirited performance from the hosts, who sacked manager Claudio Ranieri last week after only 19 games in charge. Spurs hosted Arsenal while Liverpool made the short trip to Everton, with both of these games ending in stalemate. Arguably the finest action to be seen was at Old Trafford, where resurgent Man Utd battled to a 3-2 home win against Southampton, who on this performance alone really should not find themselves in the trouble they are in. Adopting a 4-3-3 this time, let’s see which players stood out!

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Manchester United 3-2 Southampton: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men bounce back in some fashion

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Manchester United had a big chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Southampton, a side that have only won six league games and are just above the relegation zone. With Arsenal and Tottenham facing one another in the early kick off, it was important for the team to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United dominated majority of the game from the first second of the match till the final whistle, where they could have even scored a further couple of goals to pile on the misery. Though, the much needed wakeup call came through a screamer from Yan Valery and a peach of a free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, which led Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make some vital tactical adjustments.

The first half was quite good despite the poor finishing, as the front three failed to make an instant statement and did not help the side’s cause of a magical comeback. Despite the side’s list of injuries and lack of depth available to them and the manager, a brace from Romelu Lukaku as well as an incredible goal from Andreas Pereira allowed the hosts to pick the victory over the hostile visitors in the end.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Romelu Lukaku came up with the luxury goods

With the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata missing due to injury issues, United were limited with their attacking options for the fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton. However, Romelu Lukaku showed up for when his side needed him the most, scoring four goals in United’s last two games and is now the side’s top goal scorer in the Premier League this season. Recent form of the Belgian striker could mean that it’s time to put him back into your Fantasy Premier League Team. To see which other players you should look at including in your selections for Fantasy Premier League take a look at Footy Accumulators.

On top of that, Alexis Sanchez failed to take this massive opportunity to prove to the coach and the critics that he is still a quality player. Focusing back onto Lukaku, he may not be the fan’s favourite player or a clinical forward, but he is showing huge signs that he has improved since the managerial change. The Belgian international may have done enough to remain in the club’s long-term plans.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed off his in-game management

Week after week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is proving that he has the intelligence to make the much needed changes to the team or the system, whether it’s to increase the amount of chances the side are creating or to see out the game until the final whistle. Some of his decisions maybe seen as bizarre and questionable, but in the end, he is yet to suffer a league defeat since taking on the job.

Solskjaer showed off his flexibility in the second half of the match, where he went to a back-three setup to match Southampton’s style, placing Ashley Young at right centre-back, whilst allowing both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to play as the advanced wing-backs. Due to this fine tweak, it allowed United to have an advantage on the opposition, letting them to turn around the game for the win.

The Red Devils are evidently missing a world beater of a centre back

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that Victor Lindelof is United’s best centre-back, but he is in need of a partner that is vastly experienced and that has the presence to lift the mentality and spirits of the defence. Until this hole is filled within the backline, the side will constantly have grey patches and dark moments, where they will lapse in concentration and are bound to suffer from this setback.

If the board and Ed Woodward want to fix the ongoing defensive issues the side are facing, they should look to relentlessly target either of Jose Gimenez, Kalidou Koulibaly or Toby Alderweireld. These three centre-backs should be seen as the perfect and most realistic candidates, especially when you consider the incredible defensive contributions they have produced for their respective teams.

Modern Love and The Manchester United Way

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Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appear more of a revelation as time passes by. Last week there were rumblings of the wheels having come off, the extended honeymoon being over but how premature we all were.

Let’s be fair. On the face of it I’m not sure any credible football person really believed post Moyes, VG and Mourinho that Man United were anywhere near a Champions League credible force.

However, what a way to bounce back. Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the best of hunting grounds for the reds even in the Ferguson era yet on Monday night, United cruised through the tie like a classic car on a demonstration circuit through the streets of Monaco. Continue reading

Talking Points: Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjær staked a further claim to be made Manchester United’s permanent manager come the end of the season with a historic and crucial win against Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round.

The Red Devils have notoriously struggled at Stamford Bridge, managing to record only three wins in the last 17 years, but Solskjær’s men showed a compact and concise game plan that utilised their strengths and exposed Chelsea’s weaknesses.

Here are four talking points from Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United: 

Marcus Rashford doesn’t stop

What has been ever so impressive about Marcus Rashford’s game since the Norwegian took charge in late December is his relentless, non-stop energy when pressing the opposition. Playing through the middle, the England international consistently put the Blues’ centre backs under heaps of scrutiny, which was forcing Chelsea back deep inside their own half.

Even with the game sealed and Man United into the next round, Rashford did not neglect his duties and continue to harass the Chelsea defence. From every corner the Blues had, Solskjær’s men would turn it into an opportunity to go down the other end through Rashford, who kept showing his desire to take on the men in front of him with his ferocious speed.

The Englishman’s finishing has improved drastically under the management, while his crossing ability has too. Rashford showed great patience when waiting for Paul Pogba to make his darting run into the box and picked him out expertly in between two Chelsea defenders.

Rashford can lead the Manchester United line for many, many years.

Ander Herrera’s leadership qualities

One player who has really risen under Solskjær is Ander Herrera. A peripheral figure under José Mourinho in his final year in charge, the Spaniard has become one of Man United’s most important players.

The ever-reliant Spaniard has been in sensational form, constantly breaking up opposition’s defences while also providing aplenty in attack. Against the Blues, he was incessant in making sure Jorginho did not have the time to play his game, as well as being in the right place at the right time to fend off any crosses that would come into United’s box. 

Herrera has shown his leadership qualities through his own performances, but it is clear to see how much of an effect he has on the players by motivating them vocally, just as he did when Alexis Sánchez entered the fray.

The Spanish midfielder has to be tied down to a new contract and should arguably be given the captain’s armband – there are few who deserve it more than he does.

Victor Lindelöf has come of age 

Manchester United’s fans are now seeing the true Victor Lindelöf. The one who is a ball-playing central defender that also has the capabilities of outmuscling his opposition.

Once again, the Sweden international was utterly superb in defence, making sure that Chelsea’s Gonzalo Higuaín was quiet throughout and clearing any danger that presented itself inside the 16-yard box.

There was a chance in which Eden Hazard had clear sight of the goal and hammered it towards Sergio Romero, only for Lindelöf to come out of nowhere and get in the way of the forceful shot, causing it to go over the bar and out for a corner. The Swede’s positional awareness is sublime and fans have been delighted to see what great progress he has made since Solskjær took to the dugout.

Given he has not yet reached his prime years, there is still plenty to come from Lindelöf. 

Romelu Lukaku’s worrying lack of movement

The only downside to Manchester United’s performance against Chelsea was the performance of Romelu Lukaku, who watched as the game passed him by.

Once spearheading the United attack, now used as a secondary centre forward to supplement Marcus Rashford. The Belgian has lost his place as the main striker in the team and does not appear to be anywhere near to reclaiming it.

Contrasting Lukaku to that of Rashford, there are stark differences in their overall input into the game. When the Englishman was chasing ball after ball, even if they were a lost cause, Lukaku would watch aimlessly on and fail to press his man, standing in no man’s land watching the ball go from side to side.

It is clear to see that Lukaku does not fit into this Man United team, and so will be very interesting to see what the Red Devils’ management decide to do with him come the summer months.

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Preview: Chelsea v Manchester United

After recent losses to top-tier opposition in Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both teams will be looking to bounce back in this FA Cup fifth round fixture. 

Chelsea were utterly embarrassed with their performance against Pep Guardiola’s men at the Etihad, which left them outside of the top four and with work to do. Maurizio Sarri failed to show his pragmatic side and was on the receiving end of a humiliating defeat.

Manchester United, on the other hand, might have lost at Old Trafford against PSG, but it was not overly unexpected, even with numerous injuries to the Parisians. Thomas Tuchel had a clear plan in nullifying United’s attacking threats and the injuries to Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial caused a lack of speed throughout the team.

Both clubs are in need of a win and to progress into the quarter finals, as well as giving them the advantage mentally in the race for a top four finish in the Premier League.

The history of Stamford Bridge

For one reason or another, the Red Devils have struggled to beat the Blues at Stamford Bridge since the turn of the century. Remarkably, they have only managed to win twice in 17 years in West London, with none of those coming since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

Stamford Bridge has been a bogey ground for United and, no matter what type of form Chelsea are in, the Blues always rise to the occasion and put on a valiant performance.

Gonzalo Higuain is more than likely to start and will have hopes of having more of an impact than he did against United’s across-town rivals. Flanked by Pedro and Eden Hazard, Sarri will be hoping that he has got through to his players in the last week and will see them carrying out his strict instructions.

Manchester United’s weakness is through their full backs, which is why Ander Herrera – as he usually does – will have to double up and help out Ashley Young at right back when facing the Belgium international. The Spanish midfielder did an excellent job a couple of seasons ago when man-marking Hazard, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could ask for a similar job on Monday night.

The Blues are undefeated in their last 10 home matches at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United, showing their dominance against the Red Devils.

Romelu Lukaku’s importance

With the injuries to Lingard and Martial, Solskjaer needs to show his pragmatism in how United play with a severe lack of pace running through the team.

Romelu Lukaku is likely to be brought in to start, just as he did in the last round against Arsenal, and will need to deliver his best performance of the season if his team are to record a result away from home.

Against the Gunners, the Belgian often switched from a central role to out wide, occupying the wing and firing crosses into the box successfully. With the lack of interchangeability with Mata potentially on the right wing, Lukaku is going to have to ensure that his hold-up play is good enough to bring others into play.

There is no doubt about it that Lukaku can punish any team in the country on his day, but he has struggled for confidence this season and looked bulkier than he ever did at Everton. Saying that, there have been glimpses – especially against Unai Emery’s side – where he shone, which is exactly what Solskjaer needs to see against his former club Chelsea.

The Blues will be tightly marking the Belgian centre forward, which should free up space for Marcus Rashford to go in behind the defence and for Mata to play in between the lines. It is going to be a testing night for Lukaku, but one in which he needs to come through with flying colours.

Prediction

While Chelsea have some world-class players on the pitch, United’s team and confidence under the Norwegian manager should not be undervalued, even if they did lose to PSG.

One loss against a European juggernaut does not make for a bad team, which is why Solskjaer will want to keep morale high and make sure his players leave absolutely everything on the pitch.

This game is likely to be ferocious at times and even end-to-end with both defences haemorrhaging goals this season, which should make it a must watch for fans and neutrals alike.

If Solskjaer is to stamp his authority on the permanent position over his competitors out there, a win would certainly saw the Manchester United board into thinking he is the front runner come the end of the season.

Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho needs to choose his best attackers and stick with them

Jose Mourinho Romelu Lukaku

Anthony Martial said this week that his recent run of form is down to Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho giving him a prolonged run of games in the starting XI.

The Frenchman has scored six goals in seven league games since establishing himself as a regular starter at the end of September, having previously started just one match out of a possible seven.

“The key to it is playing games,” Martial explained. “For me, when you play in a game, that’s when you get back your enjoyment and you start to pick up your form once again.

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Manchester United have a problem with Romelu Lukaku

It was 18 months ago that Romelu Lukaku joined Manchester United from Everton for £75 million, a fee that to this day seems expensive for what the club have received back in terms of on-pitch performances.

Lukaku joined the Red Devils off the back of a season in which he excelled. Scoring 25 Premier League goals in 37 appearances, the Belgium international showed his prowess in front of goal for a team that was not challenging for major honours – all the more impressive.

After the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimović, José Mourinho needed a new centre forward and opted for Lukaku over Real Madrid striker Álvaro Morata, who eventually found his way to Chelsea. Lukaku joined the club with promise and the expectation that he would be a reliable, consistent goalscorer in a team that desperately needed to replace Ibrahimović’s goals.

The Belgian-born forward has posed all sorts of problems for defenders; whether it be his strength on the ball, or causing a nuisance inside the box, Lukaku has his opposition on tenterhooks and he has seen them squirm at the sight of him over the years of playing in the Premier League.

After enjoying a respectable debut season in Manchester with 27 goals to his name in all competitions, Lukaku was expected to kick on this year under Mourinho and help bridge the enormous gap between his club and their across-town rivals, Manchester City.

At the age of 25, the former Chelsea prospect should be coming into his prime now with Manchester United. While his numbers are impressive, having scored 105 Premier League goals in 231 appearances throughout his time in England, it is his overall performances that have caused concern among United fans and Mourinho himself. Such has been his decline in recent weeks, the Portuguese manager has omitted Lukaku from his team sheet and resided to having the Belgian on the bench.

It has been noticeable that, over the past 12 months, Lukaku has bulked up in size. While he was always naturally physical, he has certainly put on a lot of muscle in the gym that can be seen as a negative due to his awkwardness on the ball. There is one thing being physical when fending off defenders, and another when that growth is prohibiting your technical skill, such as it is with Lukaku at the moment.

One of the main criticisms of Lukaku’s performances has been his lack of a first touch. When the ball is played into him, instead of holding play up and waiting for his team-mates to make runs off him, the defender either usually gets the better of him or Lukaku wastes the opportunity by poor control. At the level Manchester United are playing at, it really is unacceptable to see such poor technique on a regular basis.

Manchester United’s fans are concerned over Lukaku’s ability to bring others into play and the Belgian slowing play up. With his omission from the first-team for now, Alexis Sánchez and Marcus Rashford have been rotating in the centre forward’s role, both to better effect than Lukaku.

Sánchez and Rashford bring a fast-paced edge to the role that has been missing from United’s game for some time. While they are not in great scoring form, either, they do, at least, stretch the opposition’s defence and allows the midfielders to take up advanced positions in between the lines. Lukaku has rarely done that since joining Manchester United from Everton.

What Lukaku used to so well was not only take players on in a destructive manner, but also have the ingenuity of knowing when to make that run in behind. Such is his size now, it appears that Lukaku has lost an edge to his game and is now struggling to carry out such short, sharp bursts that catches defences off guard.

There is no denying that Lukaku can be a first rate striker, as he has shown in the past, but something simply is not clicking for the Belgian and he is not playing to the fullest of his ability. Whether it is his size or lack of confidence, or perhaps a bit of both, Lukaku is simply watching the game unfold around him without making any long-lasting effect.

If he does not change the aspect of his game that is prohibiting from returning to scoring ways, Mourinho might have to look in a different direction.

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How many Manchester United players would get in Manchester City’s matchday squad?

Jose Mourinho Paul Pogba

One of the biggest matches of the 2018-19 Premier League season so far takes place on Sunday when Manchester United make the short trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City.

Jose Mourinho’s United have had a resurgence of late but their tally of 20 points from 11 games is still below expectations, while Pep Guardiola’s table-topping City have continued their fine form from last season and remain unbeaten in the league.

Every time two of the Premier League’s elite go head-to-head, you can expect to see people comparing the teams by putting together a combined XI from both squads.

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