“I was born to score. I don’t think many strikers of my generation have as many goals as me. I am like a leopard in the box”.
Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku on becoming Belgium’s joint top scorer in November 2017. Few could have predicted the Belgian’s stock could have plummeted so drastically in 12 short months.
Lukaku’s goal against Fulham at the weekend was his first home league goal since March and the nature of it, a meaningless contribution in a comfortable win against the worst team in the division, typified his contribution to United’s cause this year.
The Belgian scored just 16 times for Manchester United this calendar year and went 12 games without a goal between September and December.
That is simply not good enough for someone who cost £75 million and describes himself as a ‘leopard.’ For United, a club with title winning aspirations (or alleged ones anyway), it is unacceptable and he’s been benched in place of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in recent games.
His strike against Fulham was just his fifth home league goal of the year and when the quality of opposition and the importance of the goal are taken into account, that makes for particularly grim reading.
Lukaku netted United’s third against relegation-threatened Stoke in January, before notching goals against Huddersfield and Swansea at Old Trafford.
His only other home goal of 2018 was his only noteworthy one; an equaliser in United’s February clash with Chelsea where Lukaku took home the man of the match of the award for what was admittedly an excellent performance.
That is the only goal Lukaku has scored against the top six since his move to United.
The biggest criticism levelled at the Belgian is that he doesn’t do it against the big teams. But he seems to have dispelled that myth this year, because he doesn’t do it against the average teams either.
Lukaku ended his recent goal drought against Southampton in a lacklustre 2-2 draw, but still left St Mary’s red faced having fallen over a slowly moving ball and appearing to do himself serious injury, before getting clumsily back to his feet.
On the face of it, Lukaku’s World Cup form is the one shining light in an otherwise bleak 2018.
Well yes, if you consider that Lukaku joined the 100 goals club in the Premier League and became his country’s record goalscorer at the tender age of 24.
But there is a sense that he needs three or four big chances a game if he is going to score with any great consistency.
He started life at Old Trafford with great promise, scoring 11 goals in his first 10 games for the club. However, that run came when United were free-scoring and matched Manchester City stride for stride at the beginning of last season.
United’s form then may have papered over the cracks somewhat and their dip in form last season coincided with Lukaku’s first goal drought for the club.
The Belgian is not someone to drag a team through a rough patch and he seemed to drift through games as United’s title challenge fell away.
The new season brought with it even more flak for Lukaku, who missed sitters against Brighton and Tottenham at 0-0 in both games. As United lost both games, a lot of the blame was directed at the Belgian striker.
As we approach the turn of the year, 2018 has been one to forget for United’s number nine. It remains to be seen in 2019 whether a leopard can change its spots.