Romelu Lukaku has claimed there is no doubt he will deliver on the big occasion for Manchester United as – unlike Everton and despite Saturday's display at Liverpool – his side aim to beat the leading lights of the Premier League.
The Belgium international’s theory was challenged by José Mourinho’s approach at Anfield, where United, having won their previous six games while scoring 20 goals in the process, appeared content with a goalless draw.
Mourinho blamed the absence of Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick for United's inability to press Liverpool. He also cited Jürgen Klopp's refusal to substitute Liverpool's central midfielders as a reason the second half descended into "a bit of chess".
Lukaku was isolated by his manager’s tactics and had fewer touches of the ball than Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, 22 to 27. The £75 million (€84 million) forward did have United’s one chance at Anfield, however, although Mignolet’s save extended Lukaku’s modest return against the Premier League’s so-called big six.
The 24-year-old scored in 11 of 49 matches against the big six during four seasons at Everton and 13 goals against them in total. However, despite being similarly subdued on his first appearance for United against Liverpool, Lukaku maintained that his reputation as a flat-track bully is unfounded.
“I have heard that from people,” said the striker, who had scored seven goals in his first seven league games for United. “It’s different when every time I played for Everton we had a different mindset coming into the game. As a striker when I was over there I had a good time. I learned my trade over there. I played there for four years. I am really grateful to the club no matter what happened.
“But sometimes it is difficult as well when you play against the top teams and you play not to win and don’t really create chances. It is really difficult. 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.
“It’s all about winning and trying to play as attractive football as we can, win all the time at all costs. It’s something I learned really quickly in the training sessions; whether it’s ball possession or finishing, you always want to be the best. It’s something I embraced. It took me a week to know how the habits are and I am part of a team that is performing really well and I’m delighted to be part of it.”
Lukaku claimed his consolation goal in the 2-1 Uefa Super Cup defeat by Real Madrid in August demonstrated his pedigree against the strongest sides.
He said: “I think the biggest pressure game for me was the Super Cup against Real Madrid. That was the game for me where everybody was looking at me and thinking: ‘Will he do it there?’ I think it freed me from everything and I just kept going, tried to improve week in, week out.
“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 – but there is a lot of work to be done. I always say I try to be humble, look at the points I can improve and see how it goes. Now we have to recover and be ready for the game on Wednesday [at Benfica in the Champions League].”
Although Lukaku’s latest struggle at Anfield owed far more to United’s approach than his performance, the former Chelsea and Everton forward believes he has been unfairly criticised.
“Knowing that you are going to score and that you are going to miss has to be the striker’s biggest strength but every time I miss people put it like this [exaggerate],” he said.
“A lot of strikers in the league miss bigger chances than me but with me it’s always: ‘Rom did this, Rom did that.’ I don’t know why. It’s the standard people set.” When it was put to Lukaku that his price tag was a reason – he is likely to cost United £90 million (€101 million) eventually – he replied: “With me it is always put out. I accept that as a matter of fact. I’m always relaxed.”
United travel to Huddersfield Town in the league and Swansea City in the Carabao Cup after their Champions League trip to Lisbon. They face Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City in the league before December 10th and the defender Phil Jones said it is a period that will shape Mourinho's second season at Old Trafford.
“Those teams are all up their fighting like us for the title and if we can do well against them let’s see where we are,” said Jones, who made no excuses for United’s negative approach at Liverpool: “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 the game. That is the mentality we have definitely got in the dressing room but ultimately we want to win every single game we play.”
– (Guardian Service)