By Mark Weasley
Robin Van Persie’s 26 goals back in 2012-13 were instrumental in Manchester United’s 20th crowning as champions of English football. After Sir Alex Ferguson saw his side dramatically miss out on the title by goal difference to city rivals, Manchester City, the year before, the Scot made a crucial summer move to ensure that his last season in charge would be a successful one.
Early trips to Southampton and Liverpool that year would symbolise the rest of the campaign: United didn’t outplay their opponents for 90 minutes, but vital Van Persie interventions made the difference. A perfect season for the Dutchman was wrapped up by the iconic April hat-trick against Aston Villa, including a sweet long-range volley, which sealed the title.
The Rotterdam-born forward left for Fenerbache in 2015, but there is a new left-footed genius that could make his mark on the Theatre of Dreams. Romelu Lukaku was signed by Manchester United boss, Jose Mourinho from Everton in a stunning £75 million deal last summer and he promptly hit the ground running, registering 11 goals in his first 10 games, the most by any player in the history of the club. Lukaku perhaps struggled to reach the level of performance he reached at the beginning of the campaign, leading to widespread criticism.
Some questioned whether his confidence had been affected by the move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, others implied that he lacked the mental qualities required to pose a threat in big games. Jose Mourinho though stood by his man and in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Chelsea, that faith was vindicated. Lukaku was a peripheral figure for much of the first half, during which Antonio Conte’s side were perhaps the more prominent, but he steadily grew in confidence.
The defining moment though came just before the interval, when he edged in front of Marcos Alonso to finish off a neat team move, showing composure to slot home. From then on, Lukaku grew in belief and began to show all the qualities we associate with the ex-Everton striker. He was powerful, fast and played with purpose and although his second half volley was saved, he assisted the winner when he broke free to the right of the box and chipped in for Jesse Lingard to nod home.
Perhaps his match-winning display was a message to the Chelsea hierarchy that sold him back in 2014, but this isn’t the first time Lukaku has stolen the show at Old Trafford. If he continues to play well, the 24-year-old has the best part of a decade at the elite level left in him.
Lukaku is on 22 goals at the moment, and getting 30 in his debut campaign will put him in good stead going into next season, in which he hopes to emulate Van Persie in inspiring United to the title.