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9th November 2018

Manchester United: The Number 9 Predicament

Lukaku is out of form, but is Rashford the best solution?
Manchester United: The Number 9 Predicament
Credit: Wikimedia Commons @Aleksandr Osipov

A frustrating start to Manchester United’s season has been mirrored in their £75,000,000 No. 9 Romelu Lukaku’s form. Despite a promising start with 4 goals in his opening 5 games, the Belgian striker has been unable to continue in this vein, struggling in the league and without a goal in 800 minutes at the time of writing.

Mourinho was characteristically blunt in his reason for dropping Lukaku from the starting line-up in the Red’s 2-1 victory over Everton. Blaming his absence on poor form, Mourinho highlighted his striker’s inability to be clinical in front of goal.

Regardless of Lukaku’s lack of form, Mourinho’s quandary lies in how to help him return to his prolific best to build upon the impressive number of goals he has managed in his short career. Mourinho decided to drop Lukaku having initially attempted to play him through his bad form. While praising the Belgian striker’s brief involvement on Sunday, the problem remains as to how and when that elusive goal will come to build his confidence back.

His current struggles were typified on Sunday when Paul Pogba floated a precise ball into the back post. Pogba’s inch-perfect cross was met with an untidy attempted header which failed to trouble Pickford’s goal. A chance which was once a formality has become another aspect of Lukaku’s continuing frustration.

A number of fans have been calling for Rashford to be given a run of games at centre-forward. Alan Shearer has made no secret of his preference for the English striker to be used for an extended period. Shearer has credited Rashford’s willingness to run in behind to stretch the opposition creating space in midfield. This space was certainly enjoyed by Juan Mata who found the pass to match Rashford’s run on a couple of occasions against Everton on Sunday.

Pogba and Martial also appeared to be able to operate more freely, finding significant success attacking the left side of the pitch with some effective passing combinations. Manchester United had more joy in attacking situations on Sunday but continued to miss chances in front of goal.

Ensuring their No. 9 stretches the game to create space is just half the battle. To change their fortunes in the league United will need an in-form No. 9 to finish the chances created. It is clear that neither of United’s striking options currently have the confidence to turn half chances into goals.

Reports this week suggest that Mourinho will receive significant financial backing in the January window should the right player become available. Mourinho has made clear his desire to strengthen the squad in central defence and should Lukaku’s form continue to disappoint we can be sure that a goal scorer will be near the top of his January wish list.

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