Wednesday 26 June 2019

Lukaku rediscovers form to lift some weight off Mourinho's shoulders

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku. Photo: PA

Ian Whittell

Romelu Lukaku hopes to become a shadow of his former self after admitting he returned from this summer's World Cup campaign with Belgium needing to lose weight for the Premier League campaign.

The Manchester United forward, who ended a two-and-a-half-month domestic goal drought by scoring against Southampton the previous weekend, was again on the mark in their perfunctory 4-1 victory over a woeful Fulham.

It suggests a timely return to form for the target man, who was left out of Jose Mourinho's starting line-up for the recent high-profile games with Manchester City and Arsenal, after a dramatic loss of it.

Lukaku, to his credit, addressed those issues after his first-half goal against Fulham and admitted that his decision to bulk up for the rigours of international football held him back, and necessitated a weight-loss regimen on his return to the Premier League.

"A little bit of muscle, yeah," he said when asked if he had consciously added weight this summer.

"It was at the World Cup. I just felt great, and I think I played great over there. Then when I came back, it is a different type of style.

"When you are in the Premier League, I cannot play with the same amount of muscle as international football here. That was something that when I came back I knew straight away, 'Nah, nah, I cannot play in this style like this'.

"I had to lose muscle basically, so you just stay out of the gym, drink a lot of water, and eat veg and fish, and it helps."

To the untrained eye at least, Lukaku may not yet have shed too many of those excess pounds, but the 25-year-old also claimed that his summer in Russia, where Belgium won third-place medals, exacted a toll beyond the physical.

Lukaku's World Cup featured seven appearances - and six goals - and the mental pressure of carrying the weight of his nation upon his shoulders has clearly impacted his domestic form this season.

"It was intense. It was really intense because you get so close to absolute glory," he said.

"After the World Cup, I think I really was little a bit tired. But, you know, I had the same thing in 2014 after the World Cup when I came back to Everton. I was really in a slump after the World Cup.

"Now I think I am in a decent level again and ready to go again. Me and the medical staff, we did like a lot of tests to see what was the problem and stuff. Also, I had a hamstring injury, which is something that never happens to me.

"Just training differently - more prevention in the gym and try to do more speed bursts in training, and that's, for me, the most essential."

Lukaku played a pivotal role in United's dominant first half on Saturday, scoring along with Ashley Young and Juan Mata as United threatened to do something they have not done since the last game of Alex Ferguson's reign in 2013 - score five in a league game.

However, Fulham substitute Aboubakar Kamara pulled a second-half goal back from the penalty spot, although Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa's dismissal, for a second yellow card, immediately killed off any hope of a fightback.

Marcus Rashford completed the rout, and although United - Lukaku included - missed numerous chances to reach that five-goal target, the striker declared himself happy with his form.

Of his recent troubles, he said: "Not enough intensity. I played with not enough aggression, I think. Today, I think I played with intensity like everybody else did.

"For me, I was happy to play at a decent level again, and now it's all about improving and continuing on a consistent basis.

"Me and the manager had good conversations in the last couple of days where really he told me what he wanted from me.

"And I know from my side I have to do better, and I just keep looking forward and improving, trying to add into my game and help the team to win."

© The Daily Telegraph, London

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