This week, the Red Thoughts team analyse Romelu Lukaku’s recent performances and discuss what is going wrong for the big man.
BETS: But wasn’t Lukaku the same at Everton? A world beater for a few weeks, then disappeared for a few weeks? I think his form has been poor in the last few weeks, but I also think he’s been starved of service, so he’s snatching at chances and trying too hard. He’s played too many games and needs to be rested more. He’s a proven Premier League goalscorer, he hasn’t become a bad player overnight, but I don’t think he is world class and he needs more help up top than we have available right now.
HEMOR: Sometimes people unfairly criticise him, but not against City, he deserves every bit of criticism. He gave them two assists due to poor clearances and he also missed a chance to make up for his mistakes.
People always talk about him not being good with the ball, but that’s never bothered me – Morata is better on the ball, but Lukaku scores more. But now he isn’t scoring and he’s still not good on the ball. You have to at least help the team one way or another, either by contributing defensively, hold up play or setting teammates up. When Zlatan wasn’t scoring last season, he was still playing well.
Lukaku should be dropped for the next few weeks and I hope he’ll come back stronger, but if he doesn’t, then we’ll know we need to look for another striker in the summer.
I still strongly believe he can be our main guy for the next 8-10 years, but he has a lot of work to do. He needs to improve his hold up play, link up play, passing, decision making and he definitely needs to work on how to clear the ball when defending too.
De Gea also saved him from scoring an own goal against Arsenal.
REX: It was all a sh*t show against City. We were outclassed in every way. Tactically and in terms of desire. It wasn’t just Lukaku, although he was extra terrible! Kyle Walker was on a yellow card from the word go and no one even tested him or had a go at him all game. So everything was just a mess. Lukaku was just a scapegoat. Missing that chance as well as those clearances. But he shouldn’t have had to be in our own box defending either, because that just meant there was no outlet ball and we were just hoofing it upfield.
The sad thing is that even with all this against us, there was still a shot to at least draw and we couldn’t. City were poor in the second half, but we got too comfortable just kicking it up the field. It was a disaster all around. So Lukaku may be the scapegoat for this one, but it was an entire team f*ck up.
HEMOR: Both City goals came from set pieces and almost every player goes back to defend set pieces, especially someone as tall as Lukaku, so I don’t agree with you when you say Lukaku shouldn’t have been in our own box.
REX: Just because you’re tall, it doesn’t mean you should be back there. As he clearly showed. But that’s not the point I’m making. Tactically it didn’t make sense, as he was our only recognized striker. So if he was the farthest man back, which he was (and messed up badly), who was there to pick the ball up when it was cleared? That’s my point about the tactics. Even when just lumping it forward, there was no clear direction as to who to lump it toward, or what to do after, it was put up there in the hopes it stuck to someone.
HEMOR: But what’s the probability of us clearing the ball towards Lukaku? Lukaku staying up front means we have one fewer tall person to defend the set piece, and without players like Zlatan, Pogba and Fellaini, we need to utilize all the tall players we have to stop them from scoring from set pieces. If Lukaku was at the back defending in open play, then saying he shouldn’t be at the back would be very true, but for set pieces it’s not. You see players like Ronaldo, Bale, Morata, Giroud etc. defending set pieces even if they’re the main striker.
The problem wasn’t Lukaku being at the back defending set pieces, the problem was him not actually defending the set pieces and instead assisting City.
REX: If you play with one striker, he’s the outlet, whether he gets the ball after a clearance or not. But a team playing with a single striker has to have an out ball, whether to just relieve the pressure or just to have a counter attack ready. He could be back defending, but no way should he have been the last man behind the entire defence in a set piece. Most forwards, even those you mentioned, are put on the edge of boxes for the reasons I stated. Especially after he’d already made a mistake that led to a goal earlier.
HEMOR: I don’t think anybody told him to be the last man, he probably just went there to mark a player. Also, having one striker doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be the outlet for a counter attack; letting Martial and Lingard stay high up will actually be better because they’re shorter than Lukaku (so we’ll be able to use Lukaku’s height to defend the set piece), they’re most probably faster, they can use the ball and can dribble better than him.
BETS: I agree with Rex. Lukaku shouldn’t have been defending that deep at that time and I do think that’s part of the problem lately – it’s like watching a game of attack and defence because we just clear the ball out, there’s no-one up field to challenge for our clearances, and so it comes straight back. Mou keeps banging on about how we have 11 defenders when we haven’t got the ball and 11 attackers when we have got the ball … well we seem to be doing the first but not the second.
HEMOR: Well whether Lukaku should or shouldn’t have been defending so deep, he should still have done what’s necessary when he found himself there and clear the ball properly.
EHSAAN: He definitely should have cleared those balls better, but all players have moments where they make scrappy mistakes. For all the chances City had, their goals were pretty damn pathetic. Right now, we should either start playing a fast striker up front, or Zlatan. Today, I was playing football and I played a long ball that set one of my teammates completely in the clear. He missed it and one of the opposition players yelled to the guy “who do you think you are, Lukaku?” Its got to the point where I can’t even argue with that statement. I really think Lukaku is just trying too hard and has completely lost confidence. If we’re going to keep playing him, then play either Mkhi or Mata behind him.
DAN: I think he is getting a bit of unfair stick. People are blaming him for the two City goals – the 2nd goal was his bit of misfortune and for the first, he did play Silva on, but Silva ran off Lingard, who totally lost him. I think against City, we starved him of service. Defensively we were spot on apart from the two set pieces, but offensively we were too poor. Just smashing it long to the lad and saying go on, get hold of that. The one time we did give him the service, he was foiled by a good block from the keeper.
HEMOR: The second goal wasn’t misfortune. He cleared the ball towards where there were lots of people, it’s bound to hit someone and go back. He should have cleared it to where there were few people or nobody.
If Lukaku (or any United player) didn’t play the ball (for the first goal) back, Silva would have been offside (if I’m not wrong), so Lingard didn’t follow Silva in order to play him offside. Besides, he wouldn’t have expected any United player to play the ball back into the danger zone.
RICK: I think it’s a combination of both poor form and lack of service. He’s missed lots of chances and he’s also been starved of service, especially when Pogba was out. When Pogba came back, you saw him come back into games and when José played Lukaku and Martial up front with Lingard, you saw some great interplay between our players. But recently, he’s been snatching at chances and has not been clinical enough.
It’s times like this he probably needs a Fergie type of message, like RVP got when he went through a bad spell. He just needs to put his foot through the ball and not try to be too cute or precise. Let it come naturally and he should be fine. But again, it doesn’t help if he doesn’t get the service. His hold up play seems to have gone downhill after his game against Arsenal again. It was much better then, but now it just seems to be terrible again. He really needs to work on that, considering his size.
BETS: Yes, when Lukaku is up the pitch and our clearance does come his way, his hold up play is embarrassing.
JIM: I think we need to sign Griezmann in January to provide him with service.
BETS: You are right, Mkhitaryan has been a disaster and without a world class no. 10 in the side, there is a really bad disconnect between defence and attack. I’ll never understand why José doesn’t like Mata in that role, but as he clearly doesn’t, we need something to happen there very urgently.
DEAN: I think it’s quite unlikely to sign a high profile player like that in January, unless the player has decided to leave or has handed in a transfer request. It would be very difficult.
BETS: I thought the goal against Bournemouth would lift Lukaku but it didn’t seem to do so. And what do you guys make of the lack of goal celebration?
EHSAAN: I think it was his way of being modest. He knows he’s been playing pretty badly recently, so maybe he doesn’t want to be overconfident with one goal and see it backfire on him.
CARL: I think Lukaku’s sick of all the bullsh*t he’s getting, and I can’t say I blame him. We needed him to score more than he has in the last 15 games or so, but we needed to create more for him too. It can’t be denied though that he has missed a few good chances, that at a club like United, with the expectation that comes with him being here, he needs to be taking. People are now calling him sh*t and all that, which isn’t surprising, that’s football fans for you, always going overboard one way or another, there’s never any middle ground.
I wasn’t entirely convinced on the signing of Lukaku, but his records speak for itself and he will score a lot of goals for us. The greater issue here for me isn’t Lukaku, it’s about getting a better and more consistent standard of creative players around him. In the Summer, we could do with another CM that can create things so we aren’t solely dependant on Pogba, a natural RW, which we’ve lacked for some time now, and it’s looking like a number 10 is required too. Lukaku would be better for it.
JIM: I agree with Carl – I think he’s saying through the lack of celebration that he’s sick of all the cr*p he’s been getting from fickle plastics who don’t understand how football works.
REX: You’ve got to be thick skinned playing for United. It’s not just your fanbase that will crucify you. Other teams’ can’t wait either. Just like they can’t wait to ridicule the team in general. How many trolls came out of hiding when we lost to City on Sunday? You’d think we’d dropped to 10th after that loss! We’re still technically the second best team in the country!
Wayne got this kind of stick for years. Lukaku will have to learn to shut his eyes and ears and keep playing. It comes with that red shirt. You know… with great power comes great responsibility…