It has now been over 800 minutes of club football without a goal for Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, who was dropped for the visit of his former club Everton on Sunday.
The Belgian forward has also failed to score at Old Trafford since 31st March 2018 (vs. Swansea). So where did it all go wrong for Red Rom? Can he return to goal scoring form?
Labelled a flat-track bully for his inability to deliver against the toughest opposition in the league, Lukaku managed just one goal in 12 games against teams from the Premier League’s top 6 last season. He did also register four assists in those games, meaning he had a direct contribution to goals scored in a third of United’s big domestic clashes.
0-0 Liverpool (A)
1-0 Tottenham (H)
0-1 Chelsea (A) *Assist
3-1 Arsenal (A)
1-2 Man City (H)
0-2 Tottenham (A)
2-1 Chelsea (H) *Goal & Assist
2-1 Liverpool (H) *Assist
3-2 Man City (A) *Assist
2-1 Tottenham (A-FA.Cup)
2-1 Arsenal (H)
0-1 Chelsea (N-FA.Cup)
It should also be noted that during this period José Mourinho was often criticised for his defensive approach in away games against the top teams, which often left the big man feeding off scraps.
He still managed to score 27 goals in 51 games (all competitions), which is similar to Zlatan Ibrahimović’s tally of 29 in 53 from the 2016/17 season. Even though Lukaku appeared in six more league games (34) than Zlatan (28), he took 29 less shots (86) to reach his league tally of 16, than the Swede who had 115 shots on route to his 17 league goals.
Lukaku also registered two more assists (7) than Zlatan (5) in the league, but like Zlatan, had his season prematurely ended through injury. His absence from the FA Cup starting lineup left United bare upfront, as they failed to score against a Chelsea team that Lukaku had put to the sword months earlier in one of his best displays at Old Trafford.
With the mental and physical exerts of the World Cup in Russia, Lukaku has been racking up the minutes since the end of last season. Compared to the other forwards at United, Lukaku has logged almost an extra 600 minutes, which equates to over six and a half more full games.
Minutes & Appearances since the World Cup for club & country (minutes do not include friendlies)
Romelu Lukaku: 27 apps / 1694 mins
Marcus Rashford: 25 apps / 1102 mins
Jesse Lingard: 18 apps / 976 mins
Alexis Sánchez: 18 apps / 437 mins
Anthony Martial: 13 apps / 635 mins
Another forward who has struggled for form this season is England captain Harry Kane. He has drawn a blank in ten of his last 14 games for club and country, and has tallied 313 more competitive minutes of football than Lukaku.
Harry Kane: 24 apps / 2007 mins
Three seasons ago, Lukaku also went nine games without a goal for Everton. Back then the spot light was less bright and the work load was less heavy.
Injuries to Sánchez and Lingard have limited Mourinho’s opportunities to rotate his main forward, but against the Toffees the United manager finally dropped the man who is usually as certain to start as David de Gea.
Although this seems like a backwards step for the big number nine, without rest or competition for his place Lukaku will never be able to reach his optimum potential. United’s struggles have not aided him, but the striker just needs to see the ball hit the back of the net. Goalscorers’ productivity heavily relies on confidence.
Once Lukaku finds the back of the net you can expect his overall performance to pick up. But for now, maybe the big Belgian just needs a well-deserved rest.
Despite the forward’s scoring drought, Mourinho alluded to Lukaku’s other contributions the main reason he was relegated to the bench for his former team:
“The reason is he is playing lots of matches and lately, not just not scoring goals. But also not showing lots of confidence and sometimes we decide that the best thing for the players is to not be on the pitch, to be protected and away from the initial pressure.
“If he comes into the game later, he will come with a positive feeling of trying to make a difference and be back to normality because normally with Romelu, he scores lots of goals.”
Lukaku did have one good chance when he came on against Everton, but mistimed his header. He did look more mobile though and better than in recent weeks. So it will be interesting to see who Mourinho deploys in attack for the trip to Bournemouth. But it’s clear that Lukaku is no longer guaranteed to start every game for United, especially when he is out of goalscoring form.