Wednesday 18 September 2019

I'm no flat-track bully, insists Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku

Chris Bascombe

There was a stark admission from Romelu Lukaku as another big fixture passed him by. “Sometimes it is difficult when you play against the top teams and you play not to win and don’t really create chances,” he said.

In the interest of clarity, the Belgian was referring to his Everton career. Cynics will feel the observation is equally applicable to Manchester United’s ultra-vigilance after the lifeless draw at Anfield on Saturday.

Lukaku was unable to banish the ‘flat-track bully’ jibes – his isolation typified by the fact he made fewer passes than Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet – but the £75 million man believes the goals will flow against high-profile opponents.

“Every time I played for Everton we had a different mindset coming into the game,” he said.

“I had a good time, I learnt my trade over there. I am really grateful to the club no matter what happened, but now I am in a team where we want to win against the big teams and we want to win every game, so I think the situation will change.

“I don’t put pressure on myself. I think the biggest pressure game for me was the Super Cup against Real Madrid. That was the game where everybody was looking at me and thinking ‘will he do it there’. I think it freed me from everything.”

Lukaku had United’s one chance, shooting at Mignolet on 43 minutes. In fairness, such was the distance between him and the supporting midfielders that communication was possible only via homing pigeon.

“A lot of strikers in the league miss bigger chances than me and they score two goals, but with me it’s always, ‘Rom did this, Rom did that’. I don’t know why. It’s the standard people set,” he said.

“People will always say this and that, but my record in the Premier League is pretty good and I’m in a situation where the team is performing really well. It’s all about winning and trying to play as attractive football as we can, win all the time at all costs.”

There was no such ambition here. Such is the genius of Jose Mourinho that he not only improves the defence of every side he coaches, he is now the first manager in years to make Liverpool’s back four appear impenetrable.

For a second consecutive season a sense of spectacle eluded English football’s most scrutinised game, although the only thing more boring than boring football is the debate about whether boring football is acceptable.

Managers are entitled to plan as they wish. Equally, please grant those of us subjected to such dreariness the courtesy of reporting what we see.

This is not entertaining, nor thrilling. There was one meaningful shot for each side. It was football to slow the pulse. “A game of chess,” said Mourinho.

Not quite. Bobby Fischer versus Boris Spassky was an edge-of-the-seat thriller in comparison.

Validation can be measured in May. If this point wins United the title, they can make it the centrepiece of the DVD. Mourinho maps out a title win and cares little for scenic routes.

Manchester is now hosting two theatre troupes, one preferring the flamboyance of the cheeriest West End musical; the other effectively indulging in the collected works of Samuel Beckett.

You can admire both, but only one will get you skipping home.

For now, sniping serves only to assist Mourinho as he settles his players into their bunker.

Let them (criticise). We’ll see where we are at the end of the season,” said defender Phil Jones, balking at the idea United’s restraint was inappropriate.

“What approach was that?” he quizzed. “Hard work and being solid is the nature of any team, whether you play Liverpool or Burnley away, you don’t want to get beat.

“And if you can’t win the game, you make sure you don’t lose. That is the mentality we have in the dressing room. But ultimately we want to win every game.”

Jurgen Klopp, with one win in eight games in all competitions, claimed he would not be allowed to play as cautiously as United.

“I am sure we couldn’t play like this at Liverpool. We cannot sit back and say, ‘let’s wait’. That is not possible,” he said.

Evidently, he has never been shown footage of the 2001 cup treble and run to the 2005 Champions League final. United’s obstinacy would be welcome when Liverpool need to protect slender leads.

Both teams lack balance. If Liverpool acquire a little more of Mourinho’s defensive choreography and United adopt a little of Klopp’s attacking idealism this fixture might start living up to its billing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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