Manchester United are set for another major inquest after falling well short of the Premier League title race in 2018/19. One of the biggest names linked with a move away is 26-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian has absorbed a lot of the blame for a poor campaign but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it’s easy to criticise the flaws in his game. However, Solskjaer will have a better chance at success next season if he builds a team around his forward, rather than cutting him loose.
The constant chopping and changing has significantly contributed to United’s downfall and selling Lukaku would just be perpetuating that cycle.
A lot of criticism directed at Lukaku has come from comparisons drawn to the likes of Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. All three significantly outscored the Red Devils’ striker last season which has only fueled the flames of contempt.
Those comparisons are mute though because Lukaku isn’t the same type of player and trying to make him play like them is only hindering his game. When he has to come deeper or drift wide to offer avenues of attack he frequently runs into trouble.
Yet looking at his heat maps from games like the 4-0 defeat to Everton, reveal that Lukaku never went near the penalty spot in 90 minutes of football. Inside the penalty area is where he operates best and the primary focus of the summer rebuild should be to get Lukaku into those positions more.
Despite being reduced to the bench to accommodate Marcus Rashford under Solskjaer last season, Lukaku still finished at Manchester United’s joint top scorer in all competitions. Rashford might look better on the ball but Lukaku is the bigger goal threat and he has to take priority over the 21-year-old in the coming campaign.
The only current players with more Premier League goals than Lukaku are Harry Kane and Aguero. He also has significantly more goals than any other United player in his two years at the club, so the stats support the fact that he is their best forward.
He is guaranteed to get goals for United next season and better service will allow Lukaku to focus on what he does best, attacking the goal area. What Solskjaer should be targeting are some proper wingers and a new number 10.
They too frequently play with inside forwards in the wide areas who are drawn narrow in search of goals themselves. They need some out and out wide options who will stretch the game and whip low balls into the danger zone for Lukaku to attack.
Juan Mata is not as influential as he once was and Paul Pogba is too hot and cold to be a reliable supporting attacker. That’s where they should be looking to splash the big money this summer on an intelligent, hardworking, creative playmaker.
Just slightly adapting their style to a model that’s closer to Tottenham, one that will benefit the players they already have. Re-writing the style every couple of seasons and producing a quick turnover on landmark signings like Lukaku or Angel Di Maria, will only breed more inconsistency.
And no matter the calibre of replacement they get, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a success as the club attempts to integrate yet another style. The safer bet is to build around a striker they know will score, who has already proven to be one of the best of this Premier League generation.