Football: Jose praises 'top striker' Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku making his second Manchester United appearance in a friendly against Real Salt Lake. He got his first goal for his new club in the 38th minute.
Romelu Lukaku making his second Manchester United appearance in a friendly against Real Salt Lake. He got his first goal for his new club in the 38th minute.PHOTO: REUTERS

United manager hails Belgian's evolution after forward records first goal for the club

SALT LAKE CITY (Utah) • Romelu Lukaku bagged his first goal in a Manchester United shirt on Monday as the 10-man English Premier League football giants laboured to a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake in Utah.

Lukaku, who joined the Red Devils from Everton in a reported £75 million (S$133.55 million) transfer last week, fired United ahead on 38 minutes, latching on to a low cross from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The 24-year-old Belgian international striker had also been involved in United's equaliser scored by Mkhitaryan in the 29th minute after Luis Silva had given Salt Lake a shock early lead.

Lukaku used his strength and physical presence to hold off the Real defence to feed Jesse Lingard, who provided the pass for Mkhitaryan to score.

United manager Jose Mourinho was pleased with Lukaku's display, saying the player he once worked with at Chelsea was now a "top striker".

"It's just nice for him, not important for me," he said of Lukaku's first United goal.

"Before he scored the goal I told him I love everything you do on the pitch. Don't be worried about scoring or not scoring. He gets behind people, works and presses well.

"It's easy to feel it because he was my player four years ago. His evolution has been great. He's now a top striker. The goal is just a detail, not important."

United's win was marred by the second-half dismissal of Antonio Valencia for a reckless lunge on Sebastian Saucedo. Valencia was given his marching orders after a lengthy consultation between the match referee and Mourinho.

"The referee asked me to change the player and I didn't because I don't agree with the card," Mourinho said, before appearing to suggest Saucedo was to blame.

"(He) was really aggressive in the second half. That's what happens. Some other actions were a bit dangerous. It's young people with enthusiasm playing against Manchester United but it's a friendly match and it's a different mentality. But it's pre-season so no problem. It is good experience for us to play with one player less."

The United goals were the rare highlights of a disjointed first-half performance from Mourinho's side, who had travelled to Utah earlier on Monday from their Los Angeles training camp.

For much of the opening half United were second best, with their defence being given a torrid time by a team who are languishing near the bottom of Major League Soccer's (MLS) Western Conference.

Real coach Mike Petke, with one eye on his team's MLS fixture in Portland today, withdrew his entire starting line-up at the 30-minute mark, and United capitalised to take the lead through Lukaku.

Mourinho also fielded a new XI for the second half, but United again struggled to impose themselves, and their frustrations boiled over when Valencia was sent off.

United will face Manchester City in Houston tomorrow in the third game of their US tour.

"The level of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona (United's remaining tour opponents) is higher - Champions League level. It is good for us," said Mourinho. "But it's not so important for us to play for a result."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2017, with the headline 'Jose praises 'top striker' Lukaku'. Print Edition | Subscribe