Opinion: Why Romelu Lukaku must prove the doubters wrong at Wembley

Opinion: Why Romelu Lukaku must prove the doubters wrong at Wembley

The Belgian is set to return to fitness in time to face his former employers in the FA Cup final.

chris-lincoln
Chris Lincoln

172 goals in 366 domestic games; 33 strikes in 66 international appearances; Romelu Lukaku doesn't exactly have a bad strike rate in front of goal.

A strong record...

In fact, the Belgian powerhouse is the 12th fastest striker to 100 Premier League goals after becoming the 28th player to achieve the feat in March. Smashing the achievement at the tender age of 24, Lukaku was the fifth-youngest player to reach a century and recorded triple figures in fewer appearances than the likes of Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham, Nicolas Anelka, Matt Le Tissier and Jermain Defoe.

With 16 goals and seven assists to his name, Lukaku has been more productive in front of goal than all but Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane. With such a record in his debut season at Old Trafford, surely Lukaku has nothing to prove?

Just three goals against top half teams this season

The £75 million signing will make a timely return from injury to try and help his Manchester United side defeat his former club Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Yet Lukaku has only found the net once in eight league meetings with his first club in England, although he has scored twice against the Blues during cup competitions.

Similar statistics are regularly voiced by Lukaku's critics. Against teams finishing in the top seven this season, Lukaku has only scored one against Spurs, two each against Burnley and Arsenal, three when playing for Everton against United themselves, four when faced with Manchester City and five against his familiar rivals Liverpool. That is just 17 of his 101 top-flight English goals.

This season, Lukaku has scored just three goals in 16 fixtures against teams that finished in the top half of the Premier League, often accused of going missing when his team needs him most.

 

 

Time to shine

Yet Saturday's FA Cup final presents the best opportunity the giant Belgian has been granted in his career to prove the doubters wrong. Playing in the first ever major final, Belgium's all-time top goalscorer will have the eyes of the world watching his performance at Wembley.

Previously questioned over his attitude in 'big games', this is arguably the most important of Lukaku's career to date. With the added motivation of trying to prove his former employers wrong for letting him go after he failed to score in 15 matches, the striker needs to formulate an evening to remember in London.

However, contributing such a performance will not be an easy task. Jose Mourinho has mastered the art of containing opponents and is unlikely to release the shackles for his United side to open up the game. Attacking intent will be minimal.

Therefore, Lukaku's evening will not just be about desire, movement and finding the net but he must also be strong and hold up the ball for the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard to support him in attack. In too many previous matches against 'the big six', Lukaku has often been bullied out of the contest, something that the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill will do with ease if Lukaku does not take the field with the right mindset.

Like London buses...

The positive for Lukaku is that this Chelsea defence can be opened up. They have conceded three against Burnley, Roma (twice), Bournemouth, Watford, Barcelona, Spurs and Newcastle United this season.

There were two key aspects for the majority of those eight performances. Firstly, those sides all took their chances - Lukaku averages one goal every six shots and has missed 71 'goalscoring chances', according to Opta, almost one for every Premier League goal he has scored. The 25-year old must put that record to one side on Saturday evening.

Secondly, Chelsea wilted under pressure in a number of those fixtures they shipped goals in. Newcastle, Burnley and Spurs all scored twice in four minutes, Watford netted three times in seven minutes, Bournemouth grabbed a double in just three minutes and Roma did the same in six minutes. If there is one player in red who can bully the Chelsea defence, shift momentum in favour of United and contribute to two goals in double quick-time, it's Romelu Lukaku - if his head is in the right place.  

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