Manchester United

Should Lukaku still lead the line for Manchester United?

 • by Mark Thompson
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A chip, a target hit, and a flurry of blue balloons. It’s the gender reveal video of Antoine Griezmann’s child, posted in early October. Search the name ‘Lukaku’ on Twitter, and the results will be full of people sharing the video, joking at how long it would take the Manchester United striker to hit the target.

There’s a slowly rising swell of opinion that José Mourinho should choose someone else to lead the line at Old Trafford, after the Belgian has failed to score in the past six games. In that time, United have drawn three and lost once.

So, what are the problems at United, should Lukaku stay as the main man, and, if not, who should replace him?

‘Can we play you every week?’

The first half of September was Lukaku’s time in the sun. Two against Burnley, three across the international break, and another on the return against Watford made it six in 14 days. But outside of those 14 days, he’s scored just once all season.

On the surface, the striker’s stats look respectable enough. His 2.48 shots per 90 minutes average is nothing stellar but healthy enough, but these shots have tended to be decent-quality chances. In fact, out of players who’ve taken ten or more shots, his have the fifth-best expected goals value in the league, on average.

This means that he’s getting chances worth 0.55 expected goals per 90 minutes – basically the old ‘one in two’ record.

The problem comes from the fact that his shot-taking is almost as concentrated as his goal-getting.

Lukaku got more expected goals under his belt from the match against Burnley alone than the rest of his seven appearances in the Premier League put together (2.08 vs 1.91).

In need of a rounded game

If you take out that Burnley match, then, Lukaku’s expected goals per 90 minutes rate goes down to 0.3, down among players like Mateo Kovačić, Cenk Tosun and Alexandre Lacazette.

At this level, a club like United would be hoping that the striker could do something else for the team to make up for the lack of goalscoring threat. This isn’t really something Lukaku does. His Football Whispers Player Persona radar shows how little chance creation is a part of his game.

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Lukaku does have experience and a good track record going for him, though.

The alternatives

This is particularly relevant when thinking about United’s alternatives. Neither Marcus Rashford nor Anthony Martial, the two most like-for-like replacements, have much experience in leading a line.

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Alexis Sánchez is a name that’s been proposed, and the Chilean won praise from Lukaku himself after the Newcastle United game.

“I would have wanted to have been in his shoes today [scoring the winner], but the guy is working really hard,” Lukaku told MUTV .

“I think he’s one of the most hard-working professionals I have ever seen and to give us the win, he deserves it and I am really happy for him.”

The split in Sánchez’s output is far more even between taking and creating chances, and playing as a central striker he’d only be more involved in the play.

However, the wide forward roles in Mourinho’s 4-3-3 at United have tended to operate as more creative players, rather than being out-and-out strikers, which might mean that it would be best to keep Sánchez on the left. In this case, it would be between Rashford and Martial to fight it out for Lukaku’s spot.

Mourinho could take this as a chance to show his nurturing side and give one of his two young charges a chance. Or maybe Lukaku will just keep his starting spot, despite his stuttering form.

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