Romelu Lukaku the odd man out in attack as Man United head to Newcastle | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

19 January, Saturday


Romelu Lukaku the odd man out in attack as Man United head to Newcastle

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will put his perfect record as Manchester United manager to the test on Wednesday as the Red Devils travel to Newcastle.

So far it’s been three wins from three games for the Norwegian, as a rejuvenated team has been putting sides to the sword over the Christmas period.

Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of the game.

LUKAKU THE ODD MAN OUT UNDER SOLSKJAER

Romelu Lukaku came off the bench and scored on Sunday, his first appearance under the new manager. But was that enough to move up the pecking order in United’s striking department?

Marcus Rashford remains the man in form. He has two goals and an assist in three games under Solskjaer, and had a total of four goals and five assists in December. And his assist for Paul Pogba on Sunday came after the young Englishman produced an outrageous bit of skill to beat two defenders, showing that the confidence is flowing through his veins.

In theory there is nothing to stop Solskjaer from fielding the two strikers together. But at the moment United are flourishing with their front three of Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard.

The pace and movement of that attacking trident gives Solskjaer’s attack a fluidity that would be restricted by the presence of the less mobile Lukaku.

They shift the ball quickly, pull defenders apart, form a harrying press, and break at lightning-fast speed. And they’ve combined for 12 goals in three games under Solskjaer – a run of goalscoring form not seen at United since 2011.

For the moment, United’s £75million man looks doomed to being a back-up.

Romelu Lukaku

CAN UNITED MANAGE A CLEAN SHEET?

This United side may have plenty of goals in them, but they’re still shaky at the back. Jose Mourinho couldn’t get the defence on track, and they’re yet to keep a clean sheet under Solskjaer.

That statistic looks worse after considering the opponents they’ve played. Huddersfield are the lowest-scoring side in the division, and Cardiff and Bournemouth are the fifth-worst and ninth-worst, respectively.

As long as United keep outscoring their opponents, it won’t matter. But few teams can rely on scoring three, four, five goals a game.

For all the talk about the dour football under Mourinho, the lack of solidity was probably a bigger issue. United have scored a similar number of goals to leaders Liverpool, but have conceded 32; their great rivals have let in only eight.

The defence has been hit by injuries, poor individual form and the latest setback was a red card for Eric Bailly after a rash challenge in the Bournemouth game.

Victor Lindelof continues to play well, and Phil Jones can still at times look like a promising defender, right up until his next calamitous moment.

Those two should start on Wednesday, and hopefully give Solskjaer his first clean sheet.

RAFA’S BRILLIANCE A SELF-PERPETUATING PROBLEM FOR NEWCASTLE

Newcastle are only three points above the relegation zone, so safety is far from guaranteed. But Rafael Benitez’s ability to drag performances out of this team cannot be underestimated.

The Magpies managed a 1-1 draw against Watford on Saturday, in a game that saw winger Matt Ritchie drafted in as an emergency left-back. That the solution worked highlights Newcastle’s biggest issue, in a way.

Benitez finds these solutions, wrings passable performances out of the team, and they do just enough to survive. And for owner Mike Ashley, that’s enough to limit his investment in the squad.

The manager needs a new left-back? Oh, but he found a player already in the squad to do the job. No need to buy one.

That mentality ensures Newcastle limp along under Benitez. But if he wants to build a truly competitive team, it’s unlikely to happen under current ownership. And a takeover looks distant, despite all the talk of Ashley’s search for new investors.

Benitez has a genuine love for the club, a connection with the city and fans, and that’s keeping him from leaving. But how long will he put up with the incompetence that’s holding him back?

 

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