Romelu Lukaku scored 4 goals and made 1 assist at the FIFA World Cup 2018. His four goals came against Tunisia and Panama, but his overall forward play added another string to Belgium’s bow. Last season, he went through a dry spell in front of goal. He will be hoping to continue his FIFA World Cup 2018 form into the new season, what can Manchester United learn to get the best out of him?
2017/18 Premier League season
7 assists and 16 goals shows that Romelu Lukaku is more than just a goal scorer. He finished 5th in goals and assists behind Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah. However, looking at goals per 90 mins he is way down in 18th with 0.47 goals per 90 mins. Many pundits would point the finger at Romelu Lukaku and argue he doesn’t convert his chances. Although, with an expected goals statistic of 16.94, he is converting the chances put in front of him.
The only argument is that Mohamed Salah is doing the exceptional scoring 32 leagues goals from an expected goals of 21.67. Throughout the season Harry Kane received rave reviews for his finishing but he scored 29 goals from an expected goals of 27.3. Romelu Lukaku was often ridiculed for his ability to finish under pressure. However, looking at the statistics his finishing ability is very similar to Harry Kane’s, it is just Tottenham Hotspur created more goalscoring opportunities for him.
Looking at the heat map for Romelu Lukaku in the 2017/18 Premier League season it shows a very central based striker. His role clearly focused on dropping deep for hold up/link up play and then finishing in the penalty box. Jose Mourinho did not give him much freedom to venture wide and used him as a target to build attacks.
FIFA World Cup 2018: Romelu Lukaku
Moving into the World Cup, Romelu Lukaku had a point to prove. The statistics may have shown he was finishing his chances but he was still far behind Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah in the views of the pundits. He spearheaded Belgium’s run to the final and showcased his ‘complete-forward’ play. His 4 goals and 1 assist in 7 games were roughly in line with his Premier League form of 1 goal every 2 games.
Due to fewer games at the FIFA World Cup there is less of a heat map. Although, what the heat map begins to show is that Roberto Martinez used Romelu Lukaku across the forward line and did not rely on him completely as a target. He was involved throughout Belgium’s build up play and was instrumental in their injury time winner against Japan.
The stepover by Romelu Lukaku was instrumental to the goal. Throughout the Premier League season, he had been trying to finish difficult chances, if he had attempted that here Belgium may not have reached the next round. It shows that his game intelligence is improving and that can only help Manchester United moving forward.
2018/19 season: The making of Romelu Lukaku
Many Manchester United fans are wondering how they can catch Manchester City? After Romelu Lukaku’s FIFA World Cup 2018 form, I think the answer is obvious. It is to use Romelu Lukaku are more than just a target man. Romelu Lukaku can function effectively in a fluid front three or four that has been deployed so successfully at Liverpool F.C and Manchester City F.C.
Manchester United have the players to achieve this. Alexis Sanchez is equally adept on the wing as an inside forward or up top as a false 9. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are also capable. Jose Mourinho needs to move away from his stereotypical strong target man and move to a fluid front three. This has happened at Manchester United before; Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney provided this in Manchester United’s Champions League triumph in 2008.
To get the best out of Romelu Lukaku, Jose Mourinho needs to adapt his game model. He is a strong advocate of tactical periodisation and this methodology highlights how your game model is never static. It is now time for Jose Mourinho to adapt his game model and move to a free-flowing front three. It may go against his traditional disciplined set up, but as we saw in Belgium it will get the best out of Romelu Lukaku.