Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Romelu Lukaku another Manchester United player who can thrive under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Belgian striker scored twice in 3-1 Premier League win against Crystal Palace playing as a more traditional No 9

Romelu Lukaku clenched both fists and raised his arms in celebration. He looked happier than he had for ages on a football field, his face unadulterated joy as he stood in front of the 3,000 raucous Manchester United fans at Selhurst Park on Wednesday evening. His side had just gone 3-1 up after 83 minutes with a goal from Ashley Young, with the Belgian setting up the United captain. United were on their way to an eighth successive away - a new club record.

Minutes earlier, those fans in the Arthur Wait Stand had been singing “Rom, Rom, Romelu, Romelu Lukaku. Man United’s number nine, Romelu Lukaku.” Lukaku had scored the first two goals, after 33 and 52 minutes, the first time he had found the net in the Premier League since a 2-0 win at Newcastle United on January 2.

He lost his place in the side to Marcus Rashford, one of the best players in United’s resurgence under Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Lukaku, at £75 million (Dh366m) the second most expensive player in United’s history, had suffered second season syndrome at United after a successful first term when he scored 27 times. Jose Mourinho played him so much that he looked exhausted and short of confidence, his body language one of frustration and blame as he failed to make runs and hinted that his teammates were not playing to his strengths. In fairness, it wasn’t easy for any striker playing in a low-scoring, pragmatic side which worried first about their opponents over their own strengths. The sight of an isolated Lukaku against Seville last year, without another United player within 30 metres of him, was one of the saddest of the season. Even Lionel Messi couldn’t have worked his magic in those circumstances.

Talking about the player he was delighted to sign last year, one whose size he marvelled at, Mourinho said strikers were judged on goals at a time when they weren’t coming for Lukaku. He has suffered a drought this season too. Talk of him leaving Old Trafford was greeted with shrugs from fans who had failed to warm to him, but his scoring record stands up to scrutiny and at Palace he scored two fine goals. And he did it playing as the lone striker in an injury-hit side missing five of their six regular forwards at the start of the game.

“Very good finishes,” Solskjaer said. “First one right foot, second one he had a lot to do. A great finish, so I’m very pleased for him. He's played wide left, wide right and tonight he got the No 9 shirt and he’s worked hard.”

Solskjaer also applauded Lukaku's link-up play. “He is working hard in training and has been playing well. He's had to play wide for me and had many defensive duties, so I’m happy for him playing as a No 9.

“It’s always good to see players taking their chance. That's what it's about at this club - when you get your chance, grab it.”

A delighted man-of-the-match Lukaku added: “I was waiting for a chance, as a centre-forward I got the chance today and I’m really happy to help the team win the games. Like I said it doesn’t matter if I play left, right or up front, I always try to do my best for the team.”

It was his eighth away goal, the same number as Huddersfield Town have managed on the road all season. His twin strikes against Palace meant that it was also the seventh consecutive season than Lukaku has scored 10 or more league goals. He is still only 25.

United need more than one No 9; they need both Rashford and Lukaku. Lukaku played 51 club games last season – too many. Mourinho left him out of the FA Cup final, a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.

Both have skill sets as different as their physiques, but top-level goalscorers are hard to find. Strikers will have lean spells and Rashford won’t always be the man of the moment, as he is now, but both will be needed and if the Belgian can continue his scoring touch he can become yet another United player to have improved under the new boss. And then his United future will look far brighter than it did a month ago.

Updated: February 28, 2019 04:56 PM

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