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Manchester United: Why Romelu Lukaku is the man to help United kick-on from the Zlatan era

Zlatan was a brilliant leader in 2016/17 but Romelu Lukaku's skill set offers Manchester United a new dimension to the side that will benefit all around him.

A different approach

Yes, West Ham were very poor. They were lethargic from the kick-off and demoralised from the first goal. Perhaps that is why the first goal is so important. The longer the match would have carried on at 0-0, the tenser the crowd would have gotten and West Ham would have slowly gathered more confidence. Even before the 33rd-minute opener, you could sense the apprehension in the air. The smell of last season gripped the match. Another home draw, another frustrating performance of promise but no end product.

As a result of Matic’s high pressing, the ball broke to Marcus Rashford who charged up the field with a relentless burst of pace. The 19-year-old cut inside and threaded the ball through for new signing Romelu Lukaku to latch onto and smash into the net via the post. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the ground.

In this fixture, last season, Manchester United’s number nine was also the goalscorer. Although, at that time their number nine was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba floated a wonderful ball into the swede and he powered the header home. It’s funny how watching Zlatan’s goal from last year demonstrated the qualities that he lacked for much of that season. 

The king’s flaws


Instead of having his back to goal like most of last season, the 6ft 4 monster used clever movement to run off the shoulder into space before finishing very well with his head. These qualities were seen few and far between as Zlatan missed 18 so-called ‘big chances’ in the Premier League – 5 more than Benik Afobe in second and ten more than Lukaku himself.

Zlatan is technically brilliant, his first touch is like glue and his hold-up play is always strong given the player’s lanky but firm frame. With 28 goals last season, one could certainly argue that Zlatan did a wonderful job leading the line last season. (Which he did.) However, Zlatan’s style hampered Manchester United more often than not last season. 

Some words repeatedly associated with United’s performances last season were: slow, lethargic and languid. This was mostly down to Zlatan’s inability to run beyond the last defender. He certainly had his moments in a wonderful season for him to prove he can still do it at the top level but Manchester United suffered for his flaws. 

Romelu Lukaku is a bit like an anti-Ibrahimovic, his touch is heavy and laboured and his hold up play leaves a lot to be desired but he has more positive than negative qualities. The big Belgian charges in behind defences with power, pace and a deadly finish. He stretches defences, not only to his own benefit but to open up space for the other players like Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba.

Romelu vs Zlatan

Statistically, the differences are clear when using the 2016/17 season as a reference. As is illustrated, Zlatan is the better target-man and excellent bringing others into play. Over 90 minutes, Zlatan had more key-passes, created more chances and won more aerial duels than Romelu Lukaku. His weaknesses in comparison to Lukaku are also highlighted in the graphic. 

Lukaku had more overall goals per minute at a goal every 131 minutes compared to Ibrahimovic’s strike rate of a goal every 143 minutes. He scored more goals from inside the area with 0.66 goals per 90 minutes as opposed to Ibra’s 0.48 per 90 minutes. 

He also had a 9% increase in shot accuracy on Ibra as well as a much higher successful take on percentage and suffered more fouls as a result of his style of play, trying to get in behind the oppositions back four.

PlayerClubGoals scored(Pen)
1. Harry KaneTottenham Hotspur29 (5)
2. Romelu LukakuEverton FC25 (1)
3. Alexis SanchezArsenal FC24 (2)
4. Sergio AgueroManchester City20 (4)
4. Diego CostaChelsea FC20 (0)
6. Dele AlliTottenham Hotspur18 (1)
7. Zlatan IbrahimovicManchester United17 (2)
8. Eden HazardChelsea FC16 (2)
8. Joshua KingAFC Bournemouth16 (2)
10. Christian BentekeCrystal Palace15 (2)
10. Jermain DefoeSunderland AFC15 (5)
10. Fernando LlorenteSwansea City15 (0)

Feet on the ground

I won’t get carried away. It was one performance, but one good performance can lead to another and then another. Roy Keane mentioned during his appearance on Premier League – 25 Seasons that “Momentum is a huge thing in football” and for the first time in a while, it looks like Lukaku has given Manchester United some momentum. 

Lukaku is a player that will frustrate some fans. He will lose the ball and look clumsy at times. At the end of the day though, he essentially guarantees clinical finishing and in reality that was the real difference last season between Manchester United mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League.  

The Manchester United faithful should thank the brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his fantastic service and will surely hope he signs again for the club after being released in the summer. Should he come back for the second half of the season, he will be an integral part of a Manchester United team lacking real leaders. In terms of leading the line, however, it’s Romelu Lukaku who will be the new mobile driving force of José Mourinho’s attacking line.

  1. Who makes Manchester United better?

    1. Romelu Lukaku
    2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
    48 votes
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Emil Trahan

Journalism student @ the University of Limerick. Half Irish/Half French.


Manchester United: Why Romelu Lukaku is the man to help United kick-on from the Zlatan era

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