Very rarely in football can a forward fire in 22 goals in a debut campaign yet be the subject of weekly groans from his own supporters. However, that case can be applied to Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian international was at the forefront of the Red’s crucial 2-1 victory over Chelsea on Sunday, scoring the equaliser before producing a sublime cross for Jesse Lingard to head home the winner.
Despite this, the consensus after the game was not to applaud the 24-year-old for his performance, but in contrast an overriding sense of relief that he had ‘finally arrived’ on the big stage.
Having a £75 million price-tag on your shoulders comes with its added pressures, the hostilities directed toward Lukaku’s team-mate Paul Pogba as of late only further exemplify that fact.
But in terms of how well he has settled in his new surroundings at United, Lukaku has done much better than signings brought in by rival clubs.
As a matter of fact, the former Everton forward has scored more goals than Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata and Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette combined. This leads many to ask just why there is so much negativity directed his way when results do not meet the expectations at Old Trafford.
The answer is quite simple: up until the Chelsea clash, Lukaku had failed to find the net against any of the clubs which occupied the top eight positions in the Premier League table.
Many have argued that his inability to do so defeats the purpose of his signing, with the main intention of his transfer being that he would prove the difference in crucial ties at the top of the table.
Another telling factor has also been inconsistency. Lukaku started like a house on fire in the red shirt, before going on a barren run and eventually firing on all cylinders once more. The criticism toward Lukaku has been harsh, but arguably in some games deserved given the simplicity of some of the chances spurned.
Victory against Chelsea is not only a turning point in United’s season but a huge one in Lukaku’s career at Old Trafford.
There will always be question marks when he does not find the net, but the confidence gained from Sunday’s performance will act as a springboard for future challenges.
There is more to his game than just goal scoring, his vision and hold-up play are a prime example of that – and he can offer United plenty more than just the odd goal here and there.
It’s been 40 games and 22 goals since his arrival during the summer, and that is a very impressive return.
I would make the argument that United’s style of play in big games has been acting as a hindrance to Lukaku, for the most part, this campaign.
Jose Mourinho tends to adopt a conservative approach to crucial clashes, playing not to lose rather than to win – parking ten men behind the ball and leaving Lukaku to feed off scraps, and without support struggling to make any form of impact.
It is unfair that he has been scapegoated when the Reds fail to find the scoresheet, his suppliers have not been up to standard either, but they often escape the criticism of the press by hiding in Lukaku’s shadow.
Romelu Lukaku is an excellent forward, one well up to the task of leading the line for Manchester United.
His goalscoring record in the Premier League will tell you that, he sits on 98 strikes in England’s top flight at a very young age – his peak not yet reached.
He is just two goals off joining an elite club of superstars to make a century in the competition. You don’t do that just by luck.
Lukaku withholds so much ability – but when he misfires, supporters start criticising instead of delving into the reasoning behind it.
His performance on Sunday may not be the debut season title-winning display or the UEFA Champions League-winning goal that United fans crave, but it was a huge step forward for the Belgian.
And if tactics are employed to suit his style, as well as more support directed his way, then all supporters will eventually learn to love their powerhouse striker.
Things often take time to develop, and although his goal at Old Trafford was his 22nd of the campaign – to many, it will feel like the first – and the start of something big.
United have a real talent in Lukaku and they are finally learning how to nurture it.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena