Premier League

Lukaku’s Impact On Man United’s Attack

 • by Frank Smith
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Romelu Lukaku has already shown his influence as a Manchester United player in the form of goals.

In two competitive outings, the Belgian hitman has found the net three times, once against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup and twice in a Premier League clash with West Ham United.

Evidently, the 24-year-old has settled quickly to life at Old Trafford, though his legacy with the club will also be about what he brings out in his attacking team-mates.

Zlatan Ibrahimović was more than a mere centre-forward for Manchester United last season; he was a leader from the front, a creator – as well as a taker – of chances, and an inspiration to the younger players around him.

Lukaku will be aiming to fill the iconic Swede’s shoes, and that may take more than consistent and clinical finishing.

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Here, we assess what sort of impact the former Everton striker has had on United’s frontline so far.

For the opening game of the 2017/18 campaign against West Ham, Lukaku started atop a 4-2-3-1 system that was often used by José Mourinho during his debut season as Manchester United manager.

Behind him were Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford, while Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić took up the central midfield positions.

Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Daley Blind populated the back four in front of goalkeeper David de Gea.

While one game is not enough on which to base a final judgement, it can show some interesting information to keep an eye on in future. And, on the basis of the 4-0 win over West Ham, Lukaku’s presence could bring the best out of those around him.

Mata averaged 1.6 shots per game last season, which is more than he attempted against the Hammers. However, his two key passes and one dribble were higher than his averages from last term.

Meanwhile, Rashford and Mkhitaryan both contributed significantly more in terms of shots, key passes and dribbles than they did, on average, in 2016/17. Indeed, the latter more than doubled his output in each of these areas in his outing against West Ham.

Manchester United have reportedly been on the lookout for a new winger, with Ivan Perišić top of their rumoured targets.

However, with Lukaku’s pace and strength opening up more space for his attacking midfield and wide team-mates, there may be no need for further additions.

As a team, United averaged 55 per cent possession last season. While they didn’t match this against West Ham, they attempted significantly more shots – 21 compared to last term’s average of 15.6 – and played three times as many through balls as their average of three in 2016/17.

The context of one match against defensively vulnerable opposition may skew some of those numbers slightly, but they nonetheless make for intriguing reading.

Lukaku will fill the scoring void up front for Manchester United, but his creation of space, hold- and link-up play could be more important in the long run.