Lukaku can live up to price tag

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku (No. 9) heading his side's second goal in the 52nd minute. He has made an encouraging start to his Old Trafford career despite lofty expectations as United's second-most expensive transfer and will likely lead
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku (No. 9) heading his side's second goal in the 52nd minute. He has made an encouraging start to his Old Trafford career despite lofty expectations as United's second-most expensive transfer and will likely lead the line against Swansea on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

$132m striker endears himself to United fans, with new signing Matic a colossus in midfield

LONDON • Jose Mourinho believes Romelu Lukaku can attack his first Manchester United season under no pressure, after scoring two goals on his Premier League debut against West Ham United.

Lukaku, a £75 million (S$132 million) capture from Everton, netted United's first two goals as Mourinho's men cantered to a 4-0 home win in their opening fixture on Sunday. Having also scored in United's Uefa Super Cup loss to Real Madrid, the Belgian has three goals in his first two official games and Mourinho said it would expedite his adaptation to life at Old Trafford.

"He scored in the Super Cup, he scored today. He's playing well, he's working hard. He likes the team, the team like him," said the United manager. "For any striker, they can play phenomenally well, but if they don't score goals, the pressure is on them. So good for him, good for (Everton's) Wayne Rooney, for (Arsenal's Alexandre) Lacazette, for (Chelsea's Alvaro) Morata, for all the guys arriving in new clubs and scoring goals on the first day."

Lukaku finished crisply off the post from Marcus Rashford's pass in the 33rd minute and climbed to head in a Henrikh Mkhitaryan free-kick early in the second period.

The Belgian international revealed he is revelling in the responsibility Mourinho has placed on his shoulders.

"The manager wants me to be a leader for the team and create as much as I can," the 24-year-old said. "When you play for United, you have a job to do and mine is to score goals. It is promising. The fans want to see attractive football and we have to stick to that."

Late strikes by substitute Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba gave United their biggest opening-weekend win since a 5-1 rout of Fulham in 2006 and sent them to the top of the fledgling standings on goal difference. Mourinho, however, was eager to point out that despite a 3-1 win at Bournemouth in their opening fixture a year ago, United had finished the season in sixth place.

"This means nothing," said the Portuguese, whose side visit Swansea City on Saturday.

"This just means we played well and now our challenge is to keep these confidence levels. The fans have reasons to be optimistic, because we are also optimistic. But for me, (with) years and years of experience, and experience in the league, my feet are on the ground and I'm calm."

Much of the optimism stems from the excellence of Lukaku and fellow new boy Nemanja Matic.

Lukaku offered craft, pace, and movement while Matic was imperious in central midfield. The Serbian covered 11.41km, nicked possession nine times, and launched counter-attacks, making a mockery of Chelsea's decision to sell him to a domestic rival.

The mobile sentry with the accurate pass would have claimed the headlines but for Lukaku benefiting from the constant service in Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 system.

The question now is whether Mourinho will let his team go against better opposition.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Lukaku can live up to price tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe