Romelu Lukaku's sale does not seem quite right: Neil Humphreys
Man United lack reliable replacements in attack, especially a proven No. 9
Romelu Lukaku had to score from the penalty spot. Karma wouldn’t accept anything else.
Inter Milan’s new signing did not curl one into the top corner or even knock in a scruffy toe-poke.
He had to embarrass Manchester United from 12 yards.
His former club can’t buy a goal from the penalty spot, with both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba missing in recent weeks, but Lukaku did what conventional No.9s do.
He delivered in front of goal, scoring for Inter Milan in their 2-1 win over Cagliari. He is succeeding where his United replacements are failing.
For all his faults at Old Trafford, Lukaku’s blunt skill set was never in doubt.
He was a striker, no more, no less.
He was not the best striker in the English Premier League, but he was the only striker at Manchester United.
And as he rises in Milan, his former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stock continues to wobble in Manchester.
Lukaku’s quick settlement period in Serie A – he’s scored twice in two games – only reinforces the uncertainty at his former club.
His exit again suggests United are a club run on impulsive shopping decisions, showing as much foresight as queuejumpers with credit cards on Black Friday.
Lukaku’s sale hardly alleviates the nagging concern that Solskjaer and his employers remain in a muddle of their own making.
Before last Saturday’s draw with Southampton, Solskjaer admitted that the club had failed to sign a replacement for Lukaku, despite United’s longstanding intention to sell him.
The Norwegian was adamant that the muscular Belgian didn’t fit his faster, counter-attacking plans, which was a reasonable assumption, but he’s stuck with a striker who does not fit the archetypal role of a striker.
By his own admission, Marcus Rashford has laboured in a position that he never really coveted.
In an interview in July, the 21-year-old said: “It’s never been my aim to be a No. 9.
“It’s about being able to adapt and play in different positions and to be the ultimate forward.
“I think I can score goals from all positions, and I think that’s something that’s shared among the forwards.”
Through no fault of his own, he finds himself criticised for not excelling in a position he was not prepared for.
Rather like Fernandinho playing centre-back for Manchester City, Rashford boasts enough talent and experience to satisfy the job criteria, as there is an obvious overlap with his regular duties.
He can fill in, but he is unlikely to truly flourish.
After four matches, Rashford has two goals, but the reasonable return does not do justice to the chances created.
The expected goals statistic, which can be irritating in its geeky obsession with numbers, focuses on how many goals an individual should score based on the number of attacks, chances and shots counted in a game.
According to expected goals analysis, Rashford should be on 3.30 goals.
To compare, Sergio Aguero was projected to score 3.11 times after four games.
He already has six.
Such “what-if” figures are highly speculative, but their analysis, together with the naked eye and a dash of common sense, suggest a self-evident truth.
Rashford misses more than he scores. He is out of his comfort zone.
Considering he is occupying an unnatural role and Anthony Martial is injured, the stats are not surprising, but they must be concerning when Mason Greenwood is the only other option up front.
United’s forward line lacks depth, experience and a proven No.9.
Indeed, there was something poetic in Lukaku standing before his haters last Sunday.
He endured monkey chants from the Cagliari Neanderthals behind the goal, but said nothing.
He smashed in the penalty instead, allowing his actions to speak on his behalf. With one strike, he shamed the racists.
He also left the Red Devils feeling a tad sheepish, too.
Maybe he was too slow for Solskjaer’s counter-attacking ambitions. Maybe he was a polarising presence.
Maybe his 42 goals in 96 United appearances were deemed insufficient.
What is clear is that United assumed they were removing a thorn, but Lukaku’s departure only highlighted a much thornier issue instead.
Chaos still reigns.
Signings and selections are decided on an ad-hoc basic, reaffirming the view that Solskjaer’s masterplan, whatever it may be, will continue to be undermined by erratic transfer dealings.
United are still in the market for a half-decent No.9 because they sold a half-decent No.9.
Oh, and he also scores penalties.
It sounds like a bad joke, which is probably why Lukaku is the only one laughing.