Romelu Lukaku has not started any of Manchester United’s last three matches and they have won each of them 2-1; including of course that hugely impressive comeback victory against Juventus in Turin on Wednesday night.
It is no coincidence that United have looked more cohesive, potent and flexible without the former Everton man in attack.
But the Belgian is one of Jose Mourinho’s favourites within the squad, so will he just walk back into the side once he is fully fit? Not if the Portuguese has any sense…
Not good enough
Lukaku simply isn’t good enough to be a Manchester United striker. His control and link play was sub-standard at Everton and he has made absolutely no improvements in that area during his time at Old Trafford.
He has bulked up so much that he has lost any pace he may have had since joining, which means he offers United little more than an immobile vocal point.
The Belgian is outjumped too often in the air for a man of his stature and defenders are frequently able to nip the ball off his toes in situations where he should be using his body to protect it.
He has scored goals throughout his career but still misses more opportunities than a United striker should. Meanwhile, his movement is incredibly poor and his workrate, which should have increased when he was going through a fallow period, is on the decline.
The improvement without Lukaku
In Lukaku’s absence, Marcus Rashford and Alexis Sanchez have shared the striking responsibilities and both are much more mobile options.
That forces United to play better football on the whole; without the easy out-ball of firing a long pass into Lukaku’s chest, Mourinho’s men must show more composure and quality to keep it on the ground.
United are able to press much more effectively, which was on show against Juventus on Wednesday and will be needed on Sunday against Manchester City.
Both men are superior finishers and Rashford especially is into his third season since his breakthrough campaign where he has been waiting for an extended period of gametime through the middle as a striker.
Ultimately, Rashford’s ceiling is much higher than Lukaku’s and developing the Englishman as a striker with Anthony Martial flanking him on the left offers United a much more potent attacking threat.
Mourinho must keep Lukaku out of this team until injury or suspension necessitates his return.