It’s impossible to deny that Romelu Lukaku has had a great start to his life with Manchester United. The big Belgian striker has scored four times in three competitive games for the Red Devils, seemingly fitting into the team perfectly. But, given the calibre of strikers that United have boasted over recent years, does Romelu Lukaku have what it takes to fill their boots in the seasons to come?
Huge names to live up to
Romelu Lukaku cemented himself as one of the Premier League’s best strikers while at Everton, and now that he’s at a club of Manchester United’s ability, he seems to have unlocked that next level that will take him from very good to elite. Many other strikers have also found great success at Old Trafford, and now Jose Mourinho has boasted two world-class strikers in his ranks in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lukaku, so the Belgian already has to live up to the clinical finishing and athleticism of one of the best free transfers of all time.
Then, going further back, you look at Robin van Persie – the last true striker of the Ferguson reign – Dimitar Berbatov, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and, of course, club-record scorer Wayne Rooney. In the present, Lukaku will be eyeing up Ibrahimovic’s 28 goals in 46 games. But down the line, hoping that he doesn’t pick up any injuries or isn’t sold, he could be eyeing up Berbatov’s 56 goals in 149 games, or even van Nistelrooy’s 150 goals in 218 games. Rooney’s club-record 253 goals in 559 games will, naturally, be very difficult to eclipse. But it’s not all down to Lukaku, to an extent; the team around him will play a vital role in his goal scoring.
Lukaku needs some strong support
We’ve all borne witness to the chemistry of former world-record transfer Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, with the Frenchman, according to Metro, influential in Manchester United stealing the Belgian away from what looked to be a certain move to Chelsea. Along with Pogba, Manchester United have many creative sparks who will provide Lukaku with plenty of chances, with the likes of Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, and Michael Carrick in the squad.
Jose Mourinho plays defensive football and has utilised Nemanja Matic – who may be the steal of the summer – in defensive midfield. Then, when United face a team laden with talent in midfield – such as when they face Chelsea – Ander Herrera is deployed to provide further defensive support in the middle of the park. The defensive strength in midfield makes up for the somewhat lacking defensive corps and allows the attacking sparks to push up the pitch and counter attack. This strong setup, as well as world-class goalkeeper David de Gea, is why Manchester United, as of 21st August, sit at 5/2 to win the Premier League with Betway Sports. Lukaku has a potential league-winning team behind him but requires one aspect that made former Manchester United strikers so successful.
Manchester United had strong scoring behind their top striker throughout the Ferguson era. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were always there to provide scoring support, and backup strikers like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Louis Saha, and Javier Hernandez were good for goals when given a chance. But most recently, and for a long time, Wayne Rooney was there to provide secondary scoring. In his 13 years as a Red Devil, Rooney topped United’s scoring chart six times, coming second or third in every season bar his last at the club. Cristiano Ronaldo was also a reliable secondary source of scoring until he broke through as the best player in the world and dominated the scoring in 2007/08.
Wayne Rooney was the focal point for a few seasons but mainly provided scoring support in abundance to the main striker. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dimitar Berbatov, Robin van Persie, and even Zlatan Ibrahimovic to an extent enjoyed Rooney’s ability to score as it took the pressure off of them.
Romelu Lukaku, as good as he is, needs scoring from his teammates to not only take the pressure off but to also free him up some space. Before his arrival, Marcus Rashford was tipped to become the main striker following an incredible breakout season and could be the player that his Belgian teammate needs to provide another scoring option. Paul Pogba has shrugged off whatever held him back last season and is playing with confidence and flair this season, and clearly Anthony Martial is on a mission, so perhaps Lukaku does have the scoring support needed to excel and land among the greats.
Big performances needed
What makes a top striker great is their ability to score when their team needs it most, particularly against the big clubs. The current state of the Premier League sees six top teams all vying for a Champions League spot, whereas in Van Nistelrooy’s day and the early times of Wayne Rooney, there was more of an elite group of just four. Romelu Lukaku has already established a decent record against the top-six, per Transfermarkt; with 19 goals in 64 games, he has a scoring record of a goal every 3.4 games. Now that he’s got a better team around him, he should be able to push to rates more in-line with other star strikers’ records at Premier League clubs, such as Van Persie’s one in every 2.9 games, or Rooney’s one in every 2.8 games.
Romelu Lukaku already possesses the raw goal scoring talent and athleticism to become a truly special striker at Manchester United, and a team is forming around him which will enhance his ability to score goals. He can certainly find a place alongside the club’s legendary scorers if he sticks around for long enough, but will he eclipse Rooney’s club record? That would be an incredible but quite unlikely feat.