Mourinho has faith in Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku is substituted after scoring both goals against Huddersfield Town in Manchester United's 2-0 FA Cup victory on Feb 17. When asked about the Belgian's lack of big-game goals this season, Jose Mourinho said: "I'm happy with Romelu's perfo
Romelu Lukaku is substituted after scoring both goals against Huddersfield Town in Manchester United's 2-0 FA Cup victory on Feb 17. When asked about the Belgian's lack of big-game goals this season, Jose Mourinho said: "I'm happy with Romelu's performance when he doesn't score goals."

Belgian's struggles against top-six sides a worry for United boss, who needs to lift his side against Blues

LONDON • Manchester United fans can be forgiven for expecting more from Romelu Lukaku than a flat-track bully leading the line after Jose Mourinho spent £75 million (S$130 million) to bring the striker to Old Trafford last summer.

Twelve goals in 26 Premier League appearances appears to be a more than respectable return, but scratch the surface and it becomes easy to see why he has been criticised.

He has failed to find the net in his six matches against top-six opposition this term and that unwanted record will again come under the microscope ahead of today's Premier League clash against Chelsea.

The ability to make a difference against the elite is what separates good players from great players, but as pundit Gary Neville told Talksport: "He has to prove that he's a big-game player. You have to do that if you're a United forward."

His manager appears to be unperturbed by the Belgian's continuing drought.

"I'm not worried - 21 goals (in all competitions) is not bad at all," Mourinho told reporters. "I don't measure the players' performances the same way you do. I have other points of analysis and I'm happy with Romelu's performance when he doesn't score goals."

The Portuguese is also under pressure to show a more daring approach and get the best out of Lukaku's team-mates, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, for a grudge match against Chelsea counterpart and nemesis Antonio Conte.

Pogba has not completed 90 minutes in more than a month after being dropped for the 0-0 draw at Sevilla in the first leg of United's Champions League last-16 tie.

Despite avoiding defeat in Spain, Mourinho's ultra-defensive approach has drawn stinging criticism from pundits and sections of the United support alike.

He reacted angrily when quizzed whether the club's two other marquee signings of his reign in Pogba and Sanchez, with his only goal for United coming at the start of February against Huddersfield, need more creative freedom to perform.

Mourinho also has personal pride as well as vital points in the race for a place in next season's Champions League at stake due to a rift with Conte. He has predicted an "amazing" period for United as he prepares to host a series of key fixtures across three different competitions.

The Chelsea clash will kick off a run of four home games in their next five matches including top-four rivals Liverpool, the return leg against Sevilla and the FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton.

"The next few weeks at Old Trafford will be amazing," he told MUTV of United's decisive spell.

"Two big matches against two direct rivals in the league, two knockout matches that, if things go well, can leave us in the quarter-final of the Champions League and the semi-final of the FA Cup.

"Sometimes, we have periods with three, four consecutive away matches but this time, we have four big matches at Old Trafford."

A win for Conte's side will move the Blues level on points with the Red Devils, with 10 games to go but there will be no better stage for Lukaku to finally answer his critics than against his former club.

Conte could once again deploy Eden Hazard, who played as a false nine against Barcelona in the Champions League, up front ahead of strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud.

Willian is likely to keep his place though, after scoring and also hitting the woodwork twice in the 1-1 last-16, first-leg tie.

"When you play this way, the coach doesn't have a doubt and you play," said Conte of his display.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Mourinho has faith in Lukaku'. Print Edition | Subscribe