The Belgian struck two of United goals in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace, serving a timely reminder that he still has something to offer
Manchester United headed to Selhurst Park on Wednesday shy of a host of first-team players and with Romelu Lukaku supposedly heading nowhere but the exit door.
But the Belgian’s pair of goals which led United to a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace showed once more that if he can round out his game with a little more finesse he can still be a deadly Manchester United number nine.
With United missing Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, and with Marcus Rashford not fit to contribute more than a cameo appearance, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to see that there was more to his attacking options than his regular front three.
And Lukaku’s double after nine appearances without a goal was evidence enough that the Norwegian has plenty to fall back on in a crisis.
Lukaku had spent the majority of his United career until recently as an “untouchable” centrepiece of the attack under Jose Mourinho, but since Solskjaer has taken the reins he has been deployed largely as a secondary option with Rashford favoured at the head of their system.
It has understandably led to some speculating as to Lukaku’s future at Old Trafford, but more nights like this one in south London are likely to give his manager plenty to think about.
It didn’t look as though it was going to be his night when he somehow blazed over from close range in the opening moments after being left unmarked to get on the end of a left-wing cross.
But shortly after the half-hour
After Luke Shaw had gone on a stirring run from halfway, Lukaku took the ball off his team-mate’s toe and promptly drove home clinically with his weaker right foot.
He wasn’t done there either. When Palace failed to clear an Ashley Young corner early in the second half, the Belgian latched on to Victor Lindelof’s header and hooked past Vicente Guaita into the net.
There remain weaknesses in his play at times, especially in the channels when United are looking to build up play. But few United players in recent years have had quite the success rate of Lukaku in front of goal. Despite his difficulties over the past few months, he has netted 38 goals in 86 appearances for the club.
Others were worthy of mention on the night too. Shaw caused problems for Palace throughout, while Scott McTominay’s performance of real maturity at the heart of midfield helped to carry Fred through as he struggled to find the pace of the game early on.
Joel Ward pulled one back for Palace when United failed to clear the danger in their own box and allowed Jeffrey Schlupp to deliver to the far post, and there were moments when an equaliser looked as though it could be on the cards.
But Lukaku would again have something to say, linking well with Paul Pogba before the Frenchman took Lukaku’s return pass and teed up Ashley Young to drill the ball home from a tight angle seven minutes from time.
And in truth United were well worth
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