Big Rom’s big night – Lukaku leaves first lasting impression as Man Utd down City ••
The £75m front man was the star of the 2-0 win over rivals City in Houston, with Marcus Rashford also playing a key role
Romelu Lukaku will take part in far more important fixtures during his Manchester United career but his first ever taste of Manchester derby action will take some forgetting. A spectacular opening goal crowned a wonderful personal display which will have United’s fans salivating at the thought of what he could deliver in the years to come.
The 2-0 win over Manchester City in Houston came with an obvious string of caveats. The International Champions Cup clash had been played down as a competitive training session by Jose Mourinho in the lead-up, while City were always going to be behind the eight-ball given that they only recently arrived Stateside and were taking to the field for the first time.
But none of those factors will stop Lukaku gaining a whole load of confidence out of his performance, and for United there are excellent signs of what the £75 million man offers his new side. This was their first game against Premier League opposition even if it was played slightly below Premier League pace, and Lukaku seemed a perfect fit for a newly-vibrant United outfit.
Even before finding the net he had played a key part in some of United’s best moments. Fitter and sharper than City, the Reds dominated the early proceedings and Lukaku’s movement helped to create quality openings in the final third.
He led the line well, but also dropped in when necessary to occupy City’s centre-halves away from the wandering runs of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and on another day Lingard and Mkhitaryan might have scored from just such attacks.
It was fitting, though, that Lukaku should open the scoring. Paul Pogba played a slide-rule pass over the top of the defence which enticed City’s new £35m goalkeeper Ederson to leave his line. The young Brazilian has gained a reputation for being quick to rush out of his area, but on this occasion Lukaku did superbly to nod the ball beyond him and then fire home left-footed first time from the narrowest of angles. It was a finish reminiscent of Mark Hughes’ memorable goal in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final win over Barcelona, only with less reward at the end of it.
Within two minutes the game was practically over as a contest, with Mkhitaryan’s wonderful run through the centre opening up space before the Armenian played in Rashford on the right. The England man’s composed finish doubled the lead and City never looked likely to come back. There was still time for Lukaku to thunder a shot off the angle of post and bar in the second half, but United had already done enough.
While Rashford had initially found Kyle Walker a tough adversary down the left, it was notable that he had played his part after his switch to the opposite flank. With Lukaku’s influence growing, Mourinho was asked pre-match whether he would have to play Rashford just behind the former Everton man to get him regular game time this season.
“I don’t think Marcus is a number 10,” replied the United manager. “I think he’s an attacking player who can play in a two or one, he can play besides, can play everywhere, he has a good working way too if you demand a little bit more defensively, he can play together with Lukaku.
“If he can play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the same team, he can play with Lukaku no problem.”
Judging by the initial evidence of the two together Mourinho is on to something, just as Lukaku’s performance full of power, poise and panache suggests United knew what they were doing in calling time on the pursuit of Alvaro Morata to bring him to Old Trafford.