Manchester United: Why is Romelu Lukaku undroppable?

The Belgian striker has enjoyed an impressive – if unspectacular – debut season at Old Trafford but why is he never replaced despite lean spells of form?

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(Photo credit: Дмитрий Голубович)

There is plenty of attacking talent at Manchester United yet for all the individual ability at Old Trafford, they are all too often blunt in attack. 

Similar concerns existed last season although it was suggested in several quarters that despite his impressive goal return, the relative immobility of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was cited as a pressing issue.

The summer acquisition of Romelu Lukaku was designed to remove such criticism, with the Belgian offering a similar frame to the former Paris Saint-Germain striker but with more off-the-ball movement. 

It cannot be denied that the 24-year-old has enjoyed a strong season both in terms of his goal return and his improvement in overall play but it is also worth asking just why he has not been rotated more.

A depth of squad

Manchester United have played 42 games across the Premier League and European football this season with Lukaku started 41 of them, making 47 outings in total. 

The only match he missed was the away fixture at Everton where he was unavailable due to injury. They were a cohesive attacking unit in that match, winning 2-0. 

He has not been among the very best players in the league this season and his goal return does not match up to the lofty heights set by Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and others. 

Unlike many other teams, United have the resources to rotate every position of their squad and especially so in attack. 

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are two highly-valued forwards whose playing time in recent months has significantly dropped. In their rare starting appearances, they convince more often than not. Rashford’s two-goal cameo against Liverpool a case in point. Both players have outstanding levels of potential and, particularly in Rashford’s case, they have thrived through the middle. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s limited number of appearances this season may have been largely restricted by fitness problems yet in his rare starts – at home to Burnley on Boxing Day, for instance – he was shoehorned into a ‘number ten’ position to accommodate the continual selection of Lukaku.

An inability to defend

The former Everton striker was relatively anonymous in the recent 3-2 victory at Manchester City and he was equally ineffectual against West Brom. 

But not only did he play every single minute of both games, it is unlikely he will be among the changes for the upcoming league visit at Bournemouth and FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham.

Indeed, Lukaku was at fault for the Baggies due to slack marking from a corner – effectively costing the game and ultimately, the confirmation of Manchester City’s title. 

Yet his inability to defend set pieces has proved very costly. His performance in the home defeat to City earlier in the campaign was particularly costly at both ends – with his lapse marking preceding a spurned opportunity late on.

That was in the midst of the striker’s tough run of form and whilst these are natural for any younger player, or indeed striker – look at Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata recent 13-game goal-less drought – it should be enough to afford others the opportunity. 

It is clear Jose Mourinho places a lot of trust in his striker but could a lack of rotation continue to cost Manchester United and lead to possible striking exits? 

Only time will tell but it is a question which must start being asked.

Do you think time is running out for Manchester United. Let us know by commenting below.

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