It was a year ago that the Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho declared that his striker and new signing Romelu Lukaku was “untouchable”.
But after a succession of underwhelming performances from the Belgian this season Mourinho might be forced to change his opinion, and even drop him for the visit of Everton this Sunday.
Lukaku has too often been wasteful and lethargic, and has now not scored in his last eight games in all competitions.
On Tuesday night in United’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League he was particularly anonymous, touching the ball only 32 times, the least of any outfield player, while also having the worse pass completion rate of any starting player.
A defeat always requires a scapegoat, and Lukaku has been pushed forward for the role, with a video even appearing on social media showing a collection of his misses and lack of control this season set to the theme from the Benny Hill show.
But though Lukaku enjoyed a largely successful first season at United, scoring 27 goals in all competitions, the gnawing doubts about him were never really banished.
For a £75 million striker, the tenth biggest fee in the history of the game, Lukaku often lacks the necessary guile and basic technique.
The Belgian is of course big, strong and powerful, but simply attempting to barge his way through defences is not enough. When United need agility and litheness; they all too often get lumbering.
Lukaku’s first touch can be erratic, his awareness suspect, and United’s attacks can break down through him at an alarming rate.
It has of course not gone unnoticed that United’s attacks quite clearly lack the same fluidity and movement shown by Manchester City and Liverpool.
A glance at Twelve’s own statistics confirm that Lukaku has been struggling this season; he is ranked fourth for errors at United, and as low as thirteenth for points per minute, which beg the question does he deserve to keep his starting place?
There is also a tempting cast of understudies waiting to be handed the central attacking role, including Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez, who have all played there before.
The last time United played Everton at Goodison Park in January this year, Lukaku was absent through injury, and United did not miss him at all, with Martial instead playing through the middle and scoring a sublime goal in a comfortable 2-0 win.
The Frenchman, who was largely used as a central striker by Louis van Gaal in his first season, would be well suited to the role, and is currently full of confidence after scoring twice in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.
In the aftermath of the defeat to Juventus, Mourinho appeared to be preparing to drop Lukaku, when he said,
“The player is a fantastic pro that wants to give everything, but I have to agree his moment is not sweet, not just with the goals he is not scoring but in his confidence, movement, touch, he is not linking the game well with the team.”
The Belgian is too talented to be permanently discarded this season, but he certainly requires a rest at the moment, and Mourinho has to prove he is not wedded to him, and has the courage to try something different.
On Sunday afternoon United will face a confident and revitalised Everton, who sit two places higher than them in eighth place after winning their previous three games in the Premier League against Fulham, Leicester and Crystal Palace.
In the wake of selling Lukaku to United, Everton struggled for goals last season, scoring at a rate of just 1.15 a game, but this season new manager Marco Silva has them playing with a lot more attacking brio, already increasing the rate to 1.66 goals a game.
And unlike when Lukaku lead their forward line, Everton are not relying a single source of goals, but have seen Richarlison, Theo Walcott, Cenk Tosun, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson all contribute this season.
And so Everton come to Old Trafford in fine form, and unless Mourinho seizes the moment and makes a change, they could inflict more damage on Manchester United’s already ailing season.
Sam has selected Anthony Martial, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gylfi Sigurdsson for Manchester United vs Everton on Twelve’s game, but who would you choose? Download our app on Android or iOS to take him on!