When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took on the Manchester United job, there were a number of underperforming players that needed to have their fortunes reversed. Some have already returned to form, as Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have been electric in recent weeks. There is still more work to be done, however, and the next man who should be set to shine under the new manager is Romelu Lukaku.
Frustration under Mourinho
Like most others at United, Lukaku had a poor campaign before the Norwegian came into the fold. He came late into the team after helping Belgium to the semifinals of the World Cup, and ended up missing the clubs entire preseason tour of the United States. Lukaku did manage to score four goals in his first five league appearances, but wasn’t able to find the back of the net in his next twelve contests. He was dropped to the bench for the first time in his United career as a result, and then missed a number of games through injury as well. He kept finding success when out on international duty, however, which only seemed to frustrate United fans even more when he failed to convert for the Red Devils.
He was under immense scrutiny from both fans and media, which was harsh considering Lukaku was arguably the player most hurt by former manager Jose Mourinho's tactics. The Portuguese coach prioritized the defensive side of the ball, and made sure to keep as many United players back as possible. This often left Lukaku isolated up top with no support. He’s not a striker who can create something for himself, instead relying on the service of others to get his goals. With Mourinho, there just wasn’t enough help. The Belgian is also someone who tends to score in bursts, and plays a lot better when the team is in good form. The mood was dark and gloomy at Old Trafford under Mourinho, which made it a lot tougher for Lukaku to thrive.
Fresh start with Solskjaer
Under Solskjaer, it seems like the atmosphere has already changed. United are back to their attacking tendencies of old, and have been scoring with ease at the moment. Lukaku has gotten in on the fun as well, and has three goals in his first three games with the new manager, even with two of those appearances being as a substitute.
The key has been the number of United players that are now going forward on the attack. In the past, Lukaku was usually the only one in the opposition box, which made it easy for opposing defenders to mark him. Now, with more runners coming into the area, the Belgian is able to finally able to find some space of his own in the final third. Another factor to keep an eye on in the foreseeable future is his relationship with Paul Pogba, as the pair are great friends off the pitch. As the Frenchman gains more freedom in the attack, he will be able to link up a lot more with Lukaku on the pitch, which should worry every team in the Premier League.
The relationship between player and manager has already shown signs of promise, as the Belgian has made sure to praise his new boss in the media after his dream start to life in the United dugout.
"He [Solskjaer] knows the type of striker that I am and I think from the first day when I came back in, he did a total analysis of my game and I was really surprised," Lukaku said in an article with ESPN.
"He helped me a lot and I am looking forward to keeping on working with him. I just want to work and help the team in every way that I can and right now everything is going well, not only for me but for the rest of the team as well and I am delighted."
People cannot forget just how good Lukaku can be when he’s fit and firing. He’s scored goals at every level with almost every team he’s been at, and was near the top of the goalscoring charts with West Brom and Everton earlier in his career. He’s shown that he can do it with United as well, grabbing 26 goals in his debut season. That doesn’t even take his international career into consideration, as Lukaku became Belgium’s top goalscorer in August of 2018. He may not be the best at passing or settling the ball, but he can simply score goals at a high volume. With a talented team around him, that’s all he’s needed to do.
Now, the pressure is on Lukaku to prove himself once again. He’s no longer a guaranteed starter at the striker position, as Rashford has shown he’s more than capable up front. United will need him eventually though, as the club try to make a late-season push towards securing a Champions League qualifying spot. The schedule isn’t going to get easier, as the Red Devils travel to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. If the club want any chance to make something of this season, they will need Solskjaer to get the best out of Lukaku, and have him scoring the big goals in the big games.