Romelu Lukaku and Wayne Rooney have traded places at United and Everton but with drastically different results
When it came to the relatively late negotiations between Manchester United and Everton for Romelu Lukaku, Wayne Rooney being directly party of any deal wasn’t actually discussed, but the likely return of the striker to Goodison Park obviously was and that undoubtedly helped facilitate the deal.
In the same sort of way, you wouldn’t completely say that the two strikers have swapped places, but there has been exchange of productivity.
Everton outscored a United that were all too obstructed in attack last season, only for Jose Mourinho’s team to suddenly become so fluent just as Ronald Koeman’s become so painfully slow. As the focal points of their teams, it would be impossible not to focus on Rooney and Lukaku in this regard - if also a bit simplistic.
For one thing, Rooney has actually been one of Everton’s few sources of sharpness this season. One of the reasons for that is evidently his personal response to the obvious blow to the ego that getting dropped and discarded by United was. It isn’t his fault that a player capable of fine releasing balls, and brilliant moments of creativity is now playing in his team devoid of movement around him.
One figure very close to Everton was this week arguing vehemently that one of the greatest problems with the team is that everything was previously built towards Lukaku, and there is now just a vacuum without him. His movement was that valuable, the weight he bore that heavy.
It also speaks to a general lack of organisation or idea in the side, as further reflected by a previously frugal backline becoming so porous and easy to get it.
It is also precisely the kind of backline that should have trouble with a presence up front like Lukaku’s. This has the potential to be particularly grim for Everton, with all of that deepened by their former striker doing damage.
It has only been easy and enjoyable for Lukaku so far, right down to the chances he has missed. The goal against Stoke City was a case in point. Just as in some previous performances, Lukaku actually wasted the first opportunity but - as just happens sometimes, and as can be so crucial for strikers at key spells - the ball just fell back nicely for him to finish. He was there again.
It fits with his entire experience at United, too. Getting that goal so early in his first league game immediately set him off on the right path and in the right mood, but that itself was a consequence of how well he understood what Mourinho wanted, how easily he understood the instructions.
His running and range just released United that bit more - a United that are still a little too dependent on individual bursts rather than attacking as a properly orchestrated team. A pure scorer like Lukaku of course helps that, immediately eliminates some issues arising from that
It also helped that he already knew so many of the players, and not just Paul Pogba, and had lived in the city.
The flip side is that Everton and Koeman also know him so well, so should theoretically know what strengths to try and negate.
In that regard, given how poor Koeman’s team against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur this season, it is another one of those fixtures that will reveal a lot about United. This was after all one of the games they drew last season, against a defence that frustrated them.
If they can win it, and Lukaku can score, it will tell much. They will have done more than merely swap strikers.
Independent News Service