Manchester United, Inter Milan Reach Europa League Last Eight

Manchester United’s English midfielder Jesse Lingard (L) vies with LASK’s Austrian defender Reinhold Ranftl during the UEFA Europa League last 16-second leg football match between Manchester United and Linzer ASK at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on August 5, 2020. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

 

Manchester United edged LASK 2-1 and Inter Milan beat Getafe 2-0 on Wednesday in rescheduled ties due to the coronavirus pandemic to clinch places in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

United had a 5-0 lead from their first leg played in March and will face Copenhagen who enjoyed a 3-0 victory on the night over Istanbul Basaksehir.

Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan will face either Steven Gerrard’s Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen with the Germans holding a 3-1 lead going into Thursday’s match.

 

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 football match Inter Milan v Getafe on August 5, 2020 in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany. (Photo by Ina Fassbender / various sources / AFP)

Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen scored either side of the break for the Italians.

“It was a difficult match against a team that plays aggressively, but we did well, the defense did a good job and I’m happy to score for the team,” Lukaku told Sky Sport Italia.

“Christian also got an important goal for the side and we must continue like this.”

Despite United’s comfortable lead from March 12’s first leg the visitors caused problems early on.

Andres Andrade hit the crossbar with a powerful header after 10 minutes at an almost empty Old Trafford before Peter Michorl fired wide just after the quarter of an hour mark.

The Linz-based outfit had to wait until the second half to break the deadlock as defender Philipp Wiesinger rifled into the top corner from outside the box after 55 minutes.

 

Manchester United’s English midfielder Jesse Lingard runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League last 16-second leg football match between Manchester United and Linzer ASK at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on August 5, 2020. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

Their celebrations were shortlived as Jesse Lingard equalised on the counter-attack for United three minutes later.

Anthony Martial claimed the match-winner with two minutes to go despite LASK goalkeeper Alexander Schlager getting afoot to the France striker’s shot.

Inter’s meeting with the La Liga side was played over just one leg in Gelsenkirchen to save time ahead of next week’s last eight to be held in Germany.

They advanced to the next round as Romelu Lukaku became the club’s first player to score in five straight European appearances since Brazilian striker Adriano in 2004.

Lukaku slotted home after Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball after 33 minutes.

The Spaniards were given a chance to take the game to penalties with 25 minutes remaining as VAR said Diego Godin had handballed in his own box but veteran cente-forward Jorge Molina missed the resulting penalty.

Christian Eriksen made sure of Inter’s spot after 84 minutes with his first touch after Dakonam Djene made a mess of a clearance inside his own area.

Elsewhere, 2009 champions Shakhtar Donetsk booked a last eight spot against Basel or Eintracht Frankfurt after three goals within the closing four minutes clinched a 3-0 win over Wolfsburg.

On Thursday Rangers head to Leverkusen, Wolves host Olympiakos, and Sevilla face Roma in Duisburg.

 

 

-AFP

United Exit Was ‘Right Decision’, Says Lukaku

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (L) and Lecce’s Italian defender Cristian Dell’Orco go for a header during the Italian Serie A football match Lecce vs Inter Milan on January 19, 2020 at the Via del Mare stadium in Lecce. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku believes he made the right decision to leave Manchester United for a new challenge at Inter Milan, saying he had to “re-find” himself after a difficult time at Old Trafford.

The Belgium striker joined United from Everton for £75 million ($98 million) in July 2017, scoring 42 goals in his two seasons at the club before moving to Inter in August last year.

He has been in superb form for Antonio Conte’s side, scoring 18 goals to help the club sustain a challenge for the Serie A title.

Those performances, and United’s reported interest in signing a striker this month after Marcus Rashford’s back injury, have raised questions as to the wisdom of allowing Lukaku to leave Old Trafford.

But, in an interview with Sky Sports News, the 26-year-old said the decision was his and it had worked out well for United as well.

“I think I had to re-find myself,” he said. “Last year was difficult for me on the professional side because stuff was not going how I wanted and I was not performing as well… and I just came to the conclusion that it was time for me to change the environment.

“I made my decision around March, and I went to the manager’s office (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) and I told him it was time for me to find something else.”

“I think I made the right decision and I think Manchester United now has made space for the younger players to come through so I think it was a bit of a win-win situation for both of us,” he added.

The Belgian was signed for United by Jose Mourinho and had an excellent first season, scoring 27 goals as United finished second in the Premier League.

But Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 after a disappointing start to the season, with Lukaku also unable to discover his best form.

Former Chelsea manager Conte has managed to bring the best out of Lukaku this season, pairing him with Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez to lethal effect.

Lukaku said the Italian knew how to extract the most from his whole squad but revealed he was not afraid to get tough with the players.

“The manager, he tells it straight to your face if you’re doing well or wrong,” he said.

“You work hard, you train hard and you play,” he added. “If you don’t do what he says, you don’t play. You know where you stand — and that’s what I respect about him.”

AFP

‘Black Friday’ Headline ‘Dumb’ – Lukaku

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku/AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling on Thursday slammed a renowned Italian sports daily as “dumb” and “insensitive” after it used “Black Friday” in a front page headline about them meeting for the first time in Serie A.

Former Manchester United teammates Smalling and Lukaku face off at the San Siro on Friday as Inter Milan look to maintain top spot in Serie A, prompting the Rome-based Corriere dello Sport to publish a headline that has attracted widespread condemnation.

“Instead of focusing on a battle between two teams.. Corriere dello Sport comes with the dumbest of headlines I have ever seen in my career,” Lukaku said in a message on Twitter.

“You guys keep fuelling the negativity and the racism issue.”

Lukaku and Smalling have both taken Serie A by storm since arriving in the summer, with the Belgian striker bagging 10 goals in 14 appearances for title hopefuls Inter and England international Smalling becoming an instant fan favourite in the Italian capital.

“It is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly insensitive,” wrote Smalling on Twitter.

“I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words have.”

Both Roma and AC Milan announced on Thursday evening that they would be banning the Corriere dello Sport until the end of 2019 over the headline.

“Our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period,” the two clubs said in a joint statement.

They added that the ban was short because “the actual newspaper article associated with the ‘Black Friday’ headline did portray an anti-racist message”.

The article praised the two players for taking “strong positions against racism and are the symbols of the two clubs”, but Roma tweeted “not a single soul” would think the headline a good idea.

“The intention of the newspaper article was actually positive but this headline has totally overshadowed the anti-racist message contained within the story,” Roma’s chief strategy officer Paul Rogers told AFP.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen on social media, more people will see that ill-judged headline on the front page than read the actual article and it creates new issues at a time when we are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football.”

The headline cause uproar in a country where a number of black players have been targeted with racist abuse.

Mario Balotelli was racially abused by Hellas Verona fans last month, while AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie was also targeted by Verona supporters and Lukaku was himself abused at Cagliari, also serial offenders.

Lukaku’s club Inter Milan said earlier: “football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and will always be against all forms of discrimination.”

The Corriere dello Sport was unrepentant, saying the headline was “only the praise of difference, the pride of difference, the magnificent wealth of difference”.

“White, black, yellow. Denying difference is the typical macroscopic stumbling block of anti-racism racism,” it said in an editorial.

“An innocent headline… is transformed into poison by those who have poison inside.”

AFP

Lukaku Fires Inter Top At Bologna, Roma Beat Napoli To Go Third

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku (2ndR) scores a goal during the Italian Serie A football match Bologna vs InterMilan on November 2, 2019 at the Renato Dall’ Ara stadium in Bologna. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku continued his red-hot scoring form to shoot Inter Milan top of Serie A with a brace in a late 2-1 win at Bologna, while Roma moved up to third with an enthralling win by the same scoreline over wobbling Napoli.

Lukaku tapped home his eighth goal of the season 15 minutes before the end to cancel out Roberto Soriano’s deflected opener before slotting home a stoppage time penalty to send Antonio Conte’s side two points ahead of Juventus.

However Inter will drop back down to second if champions Juve beat local rivals Torino later on Saturday.

Inter have been tipped as the principal challengers for Juve’s Serie A title but had to be saved from a lacklustre display by their star summer signing, who has nine goals in 11 league matches since arriving from Manchester United.

The away side twice thought they had taken the lead in the first half, only for Lautaro Martinez to be flagged offside and Lukaku denied by the ball going out of play before Martinez’s cross.

Soriano put the hosts, missing coach Sinisa Mihajlovic as he battles Leukemia, in the lead when he rifled home from Mattias Svanberg’s layoff.

Lukaku pounced to level after Milan Skriniar shot was well saved by Lukasz Skorupski, and he stepped up to snatch the three points when the lively Martinez was felled by a daft challenge from Riccardo Orsolini as he darted in the box with seconds remaining.

Inter are six points ahead of Roma, who moved third in Serie A on Saturday after their win over Napoli that took them to within four of Juve.

 Resurgent Roma third 

Rising star Nicolo Zaniolo opened the scoring midway through the first half with his fourth goal in as many games in all competitions before Jordan Veretout sealed the points from the penalty spot 10 minutes after the break and stretched Roma’s unbeaten league run to six games.

“We are really happy with the victory, it was a head-to-head we needed to win and we did. We’ve always said that we are a team with great talent and we are back on form after losing our way a bit last season,” Zaniolo told Sky Sport.

“I’m very pleased with my current form, I hope to continue like this and to score many more goals.”

Arkadiusz Milik’s fifth goal in four games closed the gap for Napoli, but the defeat sees them drop down to seventh, level on 18 points with Lazio and Cagliari after winning just one of their last five in Serie A.

They are eight points behind Juve and could fall further back later on Saturday when the reigning champions travel to local rivals Torino.

Paulo Fonseca’s Roma meanwhile are on a fine recent run despite an injury crisis that kept a host of first team starters out of action over the last few weeks.

The Portuguese has his side playing well despite missing three starting midfielders to injury and central defender Federico Fazio following his straight red card in their 4-0 win at Udinese last weekend.

They are set to have further selection problems next week after Fazio’s replacement Mert Cetin was sent off for two bookable offences deep in stoppage time.

AFP

Belgium Emerge First Team To Qualify For Euro 2020

Belgium’s forward Romelu Lukaku (L) fights for the ball with San Marino’s goalkeeper Simone Benedettini during the Euro 2020 qualifier group I football game between Belgium and San Marino on October 10, 2019, in Brussels. YORICK JANSENS / BELGA / AFP

 

Belgium became the first team to qualify for the 2020 European Championship finals after thrashing San Marino 9-0 in Brussels on Thursday.

Romelu Lukaku took his record Belgian international tally past 50 goals with a double as Roberto Martinez’s Group I leaders opened up an unassailable 11-point lead over third-placed Cyprus with three games remaining.

The world-number-one ranked side booked their spot at next year’s tournament, which will be played at 12 venues across Europe, after seven straight qualifying wins.

Russia appear set to take the second automatic slot from the group, after a 4-0 win over Scotland moved them eight points ahead of Cyprus.

Belgium will be one of the favourites as they look to lift a first major international title when the Euros get underway on June 12.

Belgium were forced to wait until the 28th minute for the initial breakthrough on Thursday, which arrived when Leicester midfielder Youri Tielemans fed Lukaku, who fired home his landmark goal under San Marino goalkeeper Simone Benedettini.

The floodgates then opened, as Nacer Chadli slotted into the corner from the edge of the area three minutes later, and visiting defender Cristian Brolli scored a comical own goal 10 minutes before the interval as Benedettini pushed the ball against his knee and into the net.

Lukaku wasted little time in making it 51 Belgium goals with a low, right-footed effort, before Toby Alderweireld’s deflected strike and Tielemans’ drive made it six before half-time.

Substitute Christian Benteke drilled in number seven with 11 minutes remaining, 18-year-old Yari Verschaeren scored his first international goal from the penalty spot, and Atalanta defender Timothy Castagne completed the rout in the 90th minute.

Cagliari Escape Punishment After Lukaku Monkey Chants

Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs US Lecce on August 26, 2019 at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 

Cagliari have escaped punishment for the racist chanting their fans aimed at Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku in a Serie A match earlier this month, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) announced Tuesday.

Belgian Lukaku, 26, was targeted by monkey chants before scoring the winning penalty that earned Inter Milan a 2-1 triumph in Sardinia on September 1.

But the FIGC’s sports judges ruled that reports of “chants, shouts, whistles and screams” from the home fans’ ‘Curva Nord’ (North Stand) just before Lukaku’s penalty could not be considered discriminatory in terms of “size and real perception”.

“The sport judge has decided not to apply sanctions against Cagliari,” the sports judges ruled.

After scoring the penalty, Lukaku made a post-match plea for football authorities to unite against the blight of racism.

Everton’s Moise Kean suffered similar taunts while playing for Juventus at Cagliari’s Sardegna Arena, alongside teammate Blaise Matuidi, after he scored a goal there for his former team Juventus last April.

Cagliari, who issued a statement after the match condemning the abuse, were however fined 5,000 euros ($5,500) for fans throwing plastic bottles at officials onto the pitch.

AFP

Five Players To Watch In Serie A

Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his team’s victory at the end of the UEFA Nations League final football match between Portugal and The Netherlands at the Dragao Stadium in Porto on June 9, 2019.
PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

 

Eight-time holders Juventus begin their title defence and Napoli will be looking for their first Scudetto in 30 years as Serie A returns in Italy this weekend.

Juventus, without new coach Maurizio Sarri, travel to Parma on Saturday, boosted by the signings of Matthijs De Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot this summer with veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon back in Turin.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli head for Fiorentina, with the Tuscany side boosted by the arrival of former French international Franck Ribery on a free transfer from Bayern Munich.

Chinese-owned Inter Milan have also spent big for Antonio Conte’s first season in the San Siro with Romelu Lukaku arriving for 65 million euros ($72 million).

Here, AFP Sport looks at five key players to watch in Serie A this season.

– Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) –

The Portuguese superstar begins his second campaign in Turin after securing a title in a third major European league last season. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner should provide leadership in a team in transition after coach Massimiliano Allegri’s replacement by Sarri. Ronaldo, 34, had to wait until the fourth league game last season to get off the mark, but scored 28 goals in 43 games – 21 in Serie A, six in Champions League and one in the Italian Super Cup. It was his lowest tally in a decade and one which he will be looking to improve as he targets the ultimate prize of a sixth Champions League crown.

– Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)

One of Europe’s most sought-after players, the 19-year-old Dutch international defender captained Ajax to their most successful season in years, ousting Real Madrid and Juventus to reach the Champions League semi-finals and winning the Dutch national double. But he conceded that the chance to play alongside Ronaldo was too good to turn down. The teenager has the opportunity to become a key player in the Juventus defence alongside veterans Giorgio Chiellini, 35, and Leonardo Bonucci, 32.

– Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)

After an acrimonious exit from Manchester United, the powerful forward has become the star signing for former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, who had tried to capture the 26-year-old in 2017 when he moved to Old Trafford from Everton. Belgium’s all-time top scorer with 48 goals, he will be at the centre of Inter’s attack, taking the number 9 shirt from former club captain Mauro Icardi with the Argentina international frozen out. The ex-Chelsea and West Bromwich striker has been angered by suggestions he lacks fitness for Sunday’s opener against promoted Lecce. “Not bad for a fat boy,” he wrote on Instagram showing off his muscled torso.

– Hirving Lozano (Napoli)

The Mexican international has enjoyed two excellent seasons with PSV Eindhoven as a goal scoring winger. Known for his blistering pace the 24-year-old joined PSV from Pachuca in 2017 and soon found his feet in Dutch football. The winger nicknamed ‘Chucky’ has accumulated 45 goals in 83 games over two seasons. He is set to wrap up a deal reportedly worth 42 million euros).

– Mario Balotelli (Brescia)

Bad boy Balotelli desperately wants to impress at his promoted hometown club as he targets a place in Italy’s Euro 2020 squad. The 29-year-old, who has won 36 caps, last played in Serie A with AC Milan on-loan from Liverpool in the 2015-2016 season. Balotelli has been the victim of racism from fans in Italy in the past. “I hope from my heart to find a different league and not experience new episodes of racism,” he said. First he has to complete a four-game suspension for a red card while playing for Marseille before he is set to make his debut on September 25 against Juventus.

Lukaku Trains With Anderlecht Amid United Exit Rumour

Lukaku Hopes Clash Against Everton Sparks Revival For Him
Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku gestures during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Young Boys and Manchester United at The Stade de Suisse in Bern on September 19, 2018. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku trained with his boyhood club Anderlecht on Tuesday, a source close to the Belgian side confirmed to AFP, amid speculation over his exit from Old Trafford.

The Belgium striker has not played a single minute of United’s pre-season campaign with talk of a transfer to Serie A. Inter Milan are one Italian team in hot pursuit.

The 26-year-old turned up for a second successive day training at Anderlecht.

“It wasn’t planned that he trained again,” the source said, “but he’s from Anderlecht, so if he calls he can always pass by”.

READ ALSO: Super Eagles Forward, Samuel Chukwueze Rejoins Villareal

Images of Lukaku in the Anderlecht colours were published in Belgian newspapers. He reportedly had a run-out not with the first team, but Anderlecht’s youth side.

Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte said on Sunday he was “very hopeful” of finalising a deal to bring the former Everton star to the San Siro.

The Italian club have been chasing Lukaku during the transfer window and have reportedly returned with a fresh bid of around £65 million ($79 million) as they try and get the deal over the line.

AFP

Lukaku Urges United Players To Be Confident In Barca Return Clash

Lukaku Hopes Clash Against Everton Sparks Revival For Him
Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku/ AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku called on Manchester United to play with “arrogance and confidence” against Barcelona as they seek to overturn a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face an uphill battle at the Camp Nou next week after Luke Shaw’s own goal gave Barca a 1-0 win in Wednesday’s match at Old Trafford.

United rallied after that early setback and unsettled Ernesto Valverde’s side, giving Lukaku and his teammates’ confidence of a memorable turnaround in Spain next Tuesday.

“We have to believe and have the desire and more quality than today,” said the Belgium striker. “Be better on the ball and then you never know what can happen in football.

READ ALSO: Kane’s Ankle Injury ‘Significant’ – Tottenham

“I don’t think we played with the same arrogance and confidence on the ball (early on). Second half we tried and the first 20 minutes of the second half we were there.

“It’s something we have to do for the whole 90 minutes over there and not concede a goal and score early.”

That approach worked well at Paris Saint-Germain last month as United made Champions League history by becoming the first side to progress after losing the first leg at home by two or more goals.

The Parc des Princes triumph was the highlight of a topsy-turvy campaign for the Old Trafford giants, but even during the difficult Jose Mourinho era they managed to seal a last-gasp 2-1 comeback win at Juventus.

Asked if those two matches will play on Barcelona’s mind, Lukaku said: “Yeah, but I don’t think they will look at us. We have to look at ourselves, get a result and give our all, run as much as we can.”

Wednesday saw United fail to muster a shot on target for the first time in a Champions League match since 2005, but there was some promising build-up play.

“Definitely (they are beatable),” Lukaku added. “On the day you can score from one chance and that’s what they did today.

“There was a lack of concentration and they scored a goal and from that moment on we tried to control, but I think over there we have to do a better job and stay focused a bit more, we know they have players who make late runs.

“For us we have to go with the desire, be focused and when the chance comes, we have to score.”

AFP

Lukaku Strikes As United Beat Southampton

Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (R) celebrates after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford in Manchester, northwest England, on March 2, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku struck a dramatic 89th-minute winner as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday to leapfrog Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League.

United appeared to be heading towards a disappointing home draw when substitute Fred exchanged passes with Luke Shaw and found the in-form Belgian on the edge of the area before Lukaku did the rest with a pinpoint 18-yard finish into the bottom corner.

Solskjaer could even enjoy the luxury of a 95th-minute penalty miss when Paul Pogba’s effort was well saved by Angus Gunn following Stuart Armstrong’s trip on Marcus Rashford.

The win, which extended caretaker manager Solskjaer’s unbeaten run in domestic football to 15 games, was much-needed after it appeared United would drop two potentially crucial points in the chase for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.

In a game of spectacular goals, Saints midfielder James Ward-Prowse struck a superb 25-yard free-kick, awarded for an Ashley Young foul on Armstrong, into the top left-hand corner of the goal after 74 minutes to make the score 2-2.

Andreas Pereira had himself equalised for United in the 53rd minute as substitute Diogo Dalot combined with Lukaku, forcing the ball through to the young Brazilian who took a touch before curling a magnificent finish into the Southampton goal.

After a lacklustre first-half display, United were now in an irrepressible mood and took the lead just six minutes later through Lukaku although Pereira was again instrumental in the goal.

The midfielder showed his strength to hold off challengers in midfield before slipping through an excellently-timed pass for the striker who finished clinically, into the far corner, from 15 yards.

Saints stunner 

It was an impressive turnaround from Solskjaer’s team who had been stunned by an incredible 26th-minute strike by Southampton wing-back Yan Valery, the young Frenchman’s first goal in professional football and one he will long remember.

But there were question marks over David De Gea as Nathan Redmond won the ball in midfield, Charlie Austin passed wide to the overlapping 20-year-old and his immaculate 30-yard effort beat the United keeper at his near post.

It was a stunning goal and one which the Saints had been building towards after surviving a strong opening from the hosts who should have taken the lead inside the opening five minutes.

Twice Gunn was required to save from Lukaku from chances which really should have been converted by the United striker.

But Southampton clearly grew in belief after that shaky start and, by the 11th minute, were creating chances of their own as the unmarked Jannik Vestergaard rose to meet a Ward-Prowse corner with a header he planted well off target.

The procession of wasted opportunities continued for United before the interval although Chris Smalling came close, with a header from a Young corner which flew just wide.

United had won just one of their last five home games against the Saints since Alex Ferguson’s retirement and when Solskjaer’s already injury-ravaged squad suffered the loss of Alexis Sanchez, hurt in a challenge with Jan Bednarek after 51 minutes, the hopes of improving that record looked distant.

But the forced introduction of Dalot proved significant with the young Portuguese defender, forced into midfield, sending over a right-wing cross with his very first touch which Rashford headed just wide.

Two United goals soon followed, as did a couple of long-range attempts from Dalot, although it was Ward-Prowse’s superb set-piece and Lukaku’s winner that would provide the final words.

AFP

Lukaku Hopes Clash Against Everton Sparks Revival For Him

Lukaku Hopes Clash Against Everton Sparks Revival For Him
(File) Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku gestures during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Young Boys and Manchester United at The Stade de Suisse in Bern on September 19, 2018. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku will come under close scrutiny when he faces former club Everton on Sunday, looking to kick-start a season that is rapidly turning into a disappointment for him and his Manchester United team alike.

The Belgian international was widely criticised after United were beaten 1-0 at home by Juventus in midweek, extending his goal drought to eight games.

The 25-year-old, signed by United from Everton for £75 million ($96 million) in the summer of 2017, remains a force of nature on the international stage, having scored five times for his country in just four internationals already this season.

At this stage last season he had scored five times in three Belgium games, but he had also netted a remarkable 11 goals in 13 appearances for his club.

Lukaku’s output for United has dropped off alarmingly this season, with just four goals in his 13 outings for Jose Mourinho’s side.

Mourinho admitted after the Juventus game that Lukaku was struggling but on Friday at his pre-match press conference he backed Lukaku to bounce back.

“I always feel that,” said Mourinho. “I always feel the next game is the game.

“I feel that every game. One day it will be and one day he will score, and one day his confidence levels will be back to normal.”

One of the reasons Lukaku is still in the side, though, is that Mourinho is short of options up front.

“Could I play (Marcus) Rashford there? But then I don’t have a winger because in this moment we are in a difficult situation,” said Mourinho.

– ‘Players need to know me’ –

How United supporters must hope that they see the version of Lukaku who performed so remarkably for an often average Everton side in his three years at Goodison, ending his career there with a record of 53 league goals from just 104 starts.

Many observers have noted how Lukaku is physically much larger now than in his days on Merseyside, the result, it is believed, of time spent in the gym concentrating on adding muscle.

Some pundits have claimed the added heft has dulled his sharpness in and around the penalty area although Lukaku himself has a different explanation for his drop in productivity.

“With Belgium, I’ve been playing for 10 years, since I was 16. Players know me much more,” said Lukaku this week.

“Here I still think my teamwork between myself and my teammates can improve and be much better. It’s something that we’re working on.

“The players need to know me and know my movement. When that starts clicking I think the results I have with Belgium will also come here.”

Lukaku’s claim that he is still integrating himself into the United line-up, 15 months after his arrival at Old Trafford, seems a dubious one.

However, with no other recognised, traditional number nine currently in Mourinho’s squad, the United manager can only hope he rediscovers his form quickly.

Mourinho’s lack of options at the centre-forward position, should he want to play his preferred 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, remains glaring despite having spent heavily on his squad during his more than two years in charge.

Rashford or Anthony Martial are possibilities, as is out of form Chilean Alexis Sanchez although the former Arsenal forward is sidelined for Sunday with a groin injury.

AFP

Lukaku Hunts Golden Boot As United Gather Momentum

Manchester United’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku gestures during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Young Boys and Manchester United at The Stade de Suisse in Bern on September 19, 2018. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Romelu Lukaku will look at Manchester United’s next three Premier League games as a good opportunity to strengthen his prospects of being this season’s top scorer in the competition.

Wolves visit Old Trafford on Saturday, before a trip to West Ham and a home fixture against Newcastle, by which time Lukaku could be the clear leader in the race for the Golden Boot.

Lukaku goes into this weekend with four Premier League goals, one behind Chelsea’s Eden Hazard at the top of the standings, but has not had an entirely smooth start.

The Belgium striker has scored in each of United’s past two league matches, with both goals in a 2-0 win at Burnley on September 2 and another in last weekend’s 2-1 victory at Watford.

Yet he continues to face accusations that he is a ‘flat-track bully’ because of his disappointing record against the rest of England’s big six teams.

Of the 20 Premier League goals Lukaku has scored for United since arriving from Everton in July 2017, only one has come against the teams who made up last season’s final top six – when Chelsea were defeated at Old Trafford in February.

Perhaps, then, a run of fixtures against opponents lower down the table will offer a chance to bolster his goal total.

He may also be helped by the fact Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Tottenham’s Harry Kane have not, so far, reached the high standards they set last season, while Sergio Aguero, who has three league goals to date, is likely to be rotated with Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City.

“You always compete every year against Aguero and Kane, and Salah this year. You always think about (the Golden Boot), being a striker,” Lukaku said.

“But then, while I want to score as much as I can, I want to win championships. That’s why I signed for Manchester United.”

 United spirit 

Last season, Lukaku was the sixth-highest scorer in the Premier League with 16 goals, half the total that Salah achieved to win the Golden Boot.

There is an argument, though, that the Belgian was still adjusting to life as a United player the last term.

His all-around game has improved since his days at Everton, something that Mourinho noted after the win at Watford.

Mourinho was quick to credit Lukaku, not for his goal, but for running back half of the length of the pitch late in the game to make a sliding tackle as United held on to their lead.

According to Mourinho, that represents the spirit of the team.

United appear to be in good spirits at present, having won three successive matches for the first time since April.

The victory at Watford was followed on Wednesday by a 3-0 defeat of Swiss side Young Boys in the Champions League, and Mourinho’s recent grumbles about a lack of adequate close-season transfer market activity have quietened.

A consistent goalscoring run from Lukaku over the next fortnight will further improve both the mood and the league position; costly defeats by Brighton and Tottenham during August mean that United go into the weekend lying eighth, six points behind leaders Chelsea.

If Lukaku can keep on scoring regularly beyond that – with a league trip to pace-setters Chelsea to come later in October – then he may have a genuine chance of winning the league titles he craves.

AFP