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.
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.
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.