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Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku expects ‘more respect’ but do his performances this season deserve it?

After Romelu Lukaku has called for more respect, Martyn Cooke evaluates whether the Belgian frontman truly deserves recognition for his debut season at Manchester United.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

It has certainly not been an easy debut season at Old Trafford for Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgian striker arrived in the summer from Everton for a fee of £75 million and was earmarked by Jose Mourinho as the man to provide the goals that would allow Manchester United to compete for silverware on all fronts.

However, Lukaku has found that an increased level of scrutiny, criticism and pressure comes with pulling on the number nine jersey at Old Trafford and that any faults or flaws are highlighted by supporters, pundits and the media.

There is no hiding place and expectations are always high.

The main criticism of Lukaku this season has been that he never performs when it really matters for Manchester United.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 25: Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on February 25, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

He is accused of being something of a flat-track bully, a striker who only scores against so-called lesser sides and fails to have an impact on the so-called ‘big’ matches or against direct rivals.

There is an element of truth to the claims. Prior to Sunday the 24-year-old had scored 12 goals in the Premier League, all against teams outside the top six.

However, his man of the match display against Chelsea on Sunday will go some way to answering his critics.

Lukaku almost single-handedly turned the game in Manchester United’s favour by producing a crucial equalising goal before providing the assist for Jesse Lingard’s winning strike.

The Belgian striker hauled his side back into a contest in which they looked in danger of being blown away by the visitors during parts of the first half and he will have undoubtedly walked out of Old Trafford that evening satisfied with his goal, assist and all-round contribution.

The criticism this season certainly appears to have grated with the 24-year-old who claimed after the contest that he deserved more respect for his performances. As reported in The Guardian, an irritated Lukaku explained that:

“Year in, year out people expect 20 goals from me. I’ve been doing it for 10 years straight, so I think I’ve proved myself. You expect a bit more respect but it’s the situation we’re in. I don’t listen to it [the criticism].”

Lukaku has scored 27 goals for club and country this year season and has found the net 22 times in 40 appearances for Manchester United. However, just 13 of those goals have come in the Premier League and the strike against Chelsea was the first time that he had scored against a direct top-six rival during the campaign.

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 17: Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United celebrates scoring his side’s first goal during the The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round between Huddersfield Town v Manchester United on February 17, 2018 in Huddersfield, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

To put his goal haul into context, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah have found the net 11 and 10 times more respectively in the Premier League than Lukaku.

Whilst this season may not have been an easy one for the Belgian neither has it been terrible.

A return of 22 goals in his first 40 appearances is credible, but it is clear that the 24-year-old needs to replicate his prolific nature in the Premier League, especially against the other top-six teams.

There is certainly room for improvement in the striker’s game if he is to adequately undertake the role of being Manchester United’s iconic attacking figurehead.

Lukaku’s performance against Chelsea will go some way to answering the critics who claim that he is a flat-track bully, but he will need to continue to produce goals against the so-called ‘big’ teams if he is to dispel the criticism entirely and be lauded with the respect that he desires.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Manchester United

Three Manchester United youngsters to watch out for this season

There is a breadth of young talent available to Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford.

Martyn Cooke

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Manchester United
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United have already made significant moves in the transfer market as Jose Mourinho continues to refine and remould his squad in preparation for the new campaign.

Brazilian midfielder Fred arrived in a £52 million deal from Shakhtar Donetsk last month whilst Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot was signed from Porto for £19 million earlier in the summer. The high-profile duo have also been joined be veteran Stoke City goalkeeper Lee Grant, who has been brought in to act as experienced covered for David de Gea and Sergio Romero.

Mourinho is expected to make further additions before the start of the season but he should also consider casting a keen eye at some of the youngsters that have been making waves within the United academy over the previous two or three years.

Here are three youngsters that Manchester United supporters should keep an eye on this season.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

James Garner

Manchester United are currently blessed with an abundance of talented central midfielder players including Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive footballer, new £52 million arrival Fred and experienced enforcer Nemanja Matic.

However, it is widely considered that James Garner will soon be listed among those prestigious names after the academy graduate made rapid progress over the previous twelve months. The 17-year-old only signed his first professional contract in May and he is set to tour with the first team during the pre-season preparations, putting him firmly on Jose Mourinho’s radar.

Garner is versatile central midfield player that is equally as adept playing in a holding position or in a more advanced role whilst he has also been utilised as a central defender during his spell in academy football. He is renowned for being a natural leader and is the current England under-17’s captain.

The midfielder was a central figure in the United youth team that won the Premier League North last season and he is being tipped to make his competitive first team debut in the coming year.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Axel Tuanzebe

Jose Mourinho has struggled to find a reliable central defensive partnership during his spell at Manchester United due to injuries and the sporadic form of some of his senior players.

However, in Axel Tuanzebe he might have a potential solution.

The 20-year-old is renowned for his power, strength and pace and has developed a well-earned reputation as being the most talented young central defender on Manchester United’s books. His ability to read the game is reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand whilst his physical presence is similar to that of Eric Bailey.

Tuanzebe has already made a handful of first team appearances since making his debut in January 2017 as a substitute in a four-goal victory against Wigan Athletic and he spent the second half of last season on loan with Aston Villa. He played only a scattering of games at Villa Park as they club reached the Championship play-offs but will return to Old Trafford better for the experience.

Mourinho has publicly praised the central defender in the past and appears to rate him highly – he may way emerge as a regular feature of the United team if he is able to capitalise on any opportunities he is provided.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Angel Gomes

Manchester United’s modern history is filled with legendary players that were loved by supporters because of their pace, technical ability and creativity on the ball – in Angel Gomes the club appear to have someone that fits the mould perfectly.

The 17-year-old joined United’s academy at the age of six and has been hugely impressive throughout the formative years of his career.

He became the youngest player in over a decade to make his first team debut when he was used as a substitute in May 2017 at just 16 years and 263 days old in a late-season fixture against Crystal Palace, also becoming the first player born in the 2000’s to play in the Premier League.

Gomes can play anywhere across the three attacking midfield positions with his dribbling and innovative skill highlighting him from his peers. He is a somewhat diminutive figure but has the ability to dictate the pace and flow of a game with his intelligence, vision and impressive range of passing.

Since making his first team debut the 17-year-old has not featured for Mourinho’s side in a competitive fixture but he is being widely tipped to re-emerge and feature in the forthcoming year.

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Everton

Everton should consider Luke Shaw as Kieran Tierney alternative

Everton are moving closer to signing Leighton Baines’ long-term successor.

Liam Thomas

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Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty images

Everton are on the hunt for a long-term replacement for current left back Leighton Baines and have been hotly linked with a move for Celtic’s 21-year-old star Kieran Tierney.

According to The Daily Record, Everton are edging closer to securing Tierney’s services for a £25 million fee, but there has been no deal officially done yet, and Celtic are keen to keep hold of their top prospect.

There is, however, another left back option out there whose talent is undeniable and is an option Marco Silva and the Everton hierarchy should be exploring; Manchester United outcast Luke Shaw.

Shaw’s torrid time at Manchester United has been well documented, and 22-year-old defender hasn’t managed to hold down a regular position in Jose Mourinho’s starting XI since the Portuguese manager took over at Old Trafford in 2016.

It would be silly of Everton not to explore the opportunity of capturing Shaw’s signature.

The England international is only a year older than Tierney and already has a heap of Premier League experience; meaning he could come into the Toffees setup and hit the ground running, unlike Tierney who may need time to settle.

At 22 years of age, Shaw still has his best years ahead of him and this is something Everton are reportedly looking for in their search to replace their long-term left back Leighton Baines.

So why not take a punt on Shaw? If the pacey full-back could reproduce any of the form he showed playing for Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino he’d be an incredible purchase for the Toffees.

Considering his current relationship with Mourinho, Shaw would be the obvious choice of left-back to explore and would likely be available if Everton came calling for him, while prizing Tierney away from Celtic may be more hassle than it’s worth.

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Liverpool

As some Liverpool fans call for his signing, Shinji Kagawa could be an excellent addition

The Japanese international worked under Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

Mathew Nash

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Japan are out of the World Cup but they gained many a fan with their brave effort against Belgium last night. The Samurai Blue led 2-0 before goals from Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli helped the Red Devils to victory. But there were several incredible performances, including from Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa.

He was exceptional in the middle of the park, linking the attack to defence masterfully in a performance which reminded people just why Manchester United once splashed out on his signature.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

In fact, his performances at the World Cup overall have been fantastic. So much so, that some of the fans from United’s bitter rivals Liverpool are suggesting they make a move for the player:

The reasons why are clear. Jurgen Klopp is a big fan of Kagawa and first took him to European football with Borussia Dortmund. He got the best out of the player and was a truly massive fan of his. Back in 2013, with Kagawa out of the picture at United, Klopp told The Guardian it broke his heart to see and that it had put ‘tears in his eyes’. He also dubbed Kagawa ‘one of the best players in the world.’

Now, 29-year-old Kagawa is looking back to his best. He was one of Dortmund’s best players last season, before an ankle injury cut things short and under the guidance of his former boss Klopp he could be a star – which would be great to rub in Manchester United’s face.

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