Alvaro Morata v Romelu Lukaku - Is the criticism fair and are their lack of goals a concern?

Alex Rea 4/11/2017
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Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata are opposing strikers with entwined narratives.

Chelsea‘s summer pursuit of Lukaku and Manchester United‘s of Morata has ensured a season-long compare and contrast is in motion.

And the timeline for their season has done little to dissuade the comparisons with both players enduring a barren spell as the two clubs meet on Sunday.

Indeed, the Belgian and Spaniard have both gone six games without a goal and it’s lead to criticism and questioning of the pair ahead of the key clash.

With that in mind, we ask and answer the same three questions of the two strikers.

MORATA

ARE HIS LACK OF GOALS A CONCERN?

Morata hasn’t scored since his return from a hamstring problem he suffered against Man City and it’s understandably taken him some time to get comfortable again.

The 25-year-old missed chances in the narrow win over Bournemouth, a first-half one-on-one sliced wide indicative of an absence in sharpness.

But Morata’s contribution elsewhere has slightly atoned for his profligacy in front of goal with a well-worked assist for Eden Hazard’s winner against the Cherries an example of his wider contribution.

It is concern, though, that according to ESPN, statistically his shot rate has dropped from the 3.4 per game during his run of seven goals in eight games to just 1.8 in his last six appearances.

Still, Morata is in the adaptive stage of his Premier League career and adjusting to the physicality of English football coupled with a spell out injured won’t have helped.

After all, he has the talent and perhaps more tools than Lukaku to affect the game beyond goals.

IS THE CRITICISM WRONG?

The Chelsea frontman has practically invited criticism after he raised significant doubt over his long-term future with the club following comments regarding life in London.

The timing couldn’t have been much worse considering the media maelstrom which hangs over Stamford Bridge and the interview has piled more unnecessary pressure on his shoulders.

On the pitch, though, the mitigating circumstance of his injury and the fact it’s still very early in his Chelsea career means criticism of his performances are premature.

Ultimately, he was bought with the task of replacing the big-game goals of Diego Costa and having done just that for Real Madrid and Juventus, the Spain international can drain out the negative analysis by ending his mini drought against United.

IS HE GETTING ENOUGH SERVICE?

One of the conundrums Antonio Conte faced when integrating Morata into his side was his isolation without a partner in alongside him.

Chelsea began the season without the creativity of injured Eden Hazard and their attack look disjointed without him.

But the Belgian’s return has opened new avenues of attack and his connection with Morata in particular has looked threatening.

As mentioned earlier, though, Morata’s shot count has dropped but he’s attempted five in his last two which is a rise on the two from his previous two games before that.

Service is less an issue but coping with the physical demands is an area of obvious improvement given his frustrating flopping – it’s also why United’s formidable back three of Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling perhaps provide his toughest examination.

Morata has scored six goals in the league this term

Morata has scored six goals in the league this term

LUKAKU

ARE HIS LACK OF GOALS A CONCERN?

Like Morata, Lukaku has not scored since September but similarly to the Spaniard, the Belgian has contributed in other areas.

His clever headed assist against Tottenham for Anthony Martial’s goal sealed a quintessential Jose Mourinho 1-0 win while his whipped in cross to Marcus Rashford against Huddersfield was the side’s sole bright spark.

The portrait of Lukaku has always been one of a clinical goalscorer who doesn’t possess the ability to deliver much else.

So when the goals dry it up it’s always of course an immediate concern.

But dig past the stats – his average of 4.2 shots per game during his 11 goals in 10 games has now dropped to 1.8 in his last six – and you’ll see context is crucial.

United have predictably played more pragmatically in their last six games having taken in testing trips to Benfica and Liverpool while hosting cut-throat Spurs and the Portuguese giants.

There’s no doubt Lukaku will be back on the goalscoring trail but his 15 goals in 59 league matches against the top six suggests it may not start against his former club.

IS THE CRITICISM WRONG?

Speak to some sections of United’s support and they’ll ask ‘what criticism? It’s not from us!’

Indeed, there is an appreciation from large sections of the Red Devils faithful and perhaps the harsh assessment is outside the Old Trafford stands despite Mourinho’s claims.

The £75million price tag will undoubtedly heap pressure on his shoulders but as Lukaku defiantly pointed out, he’s far from the finished article.

Six games without a goal when you’ve been signed for your match-winning prowess will summon the detractors, though.

Go scoreless against Chelsea and continue the trend of underperforming against the top six and the criticism becomes more justified.

IS HE GETTING ENOUGH SERVICE?

This is arguably the most pertinent point when assessing Lukaku’s recent run.

United’s midfield has been bereft of ingenuity and in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s case, confidence.

Without the elegant creation of Paul Pogba or the physicality of Marouane Fellaini to work off, the supply line to Lukaku has been cut.

Mkhitaryan’s dire form in particular has been crippling. When United do set-up to contain and counter, his role in the side is vital as the Armenian supplies Lukaku in the transition.

But he’s been ponderous and without idea in that No10 position.

Mourinho would do well to release the rigidity and operate with pace either side of Lukaku through Martial and Marcus Rashford to rectify the issue.

Lukaku has scored seven league goals in 10 games

Lukaku has scored seven league goals in 10 games

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Paul Pogba's injury is no excuse for Man United's lack of creativity given money spent in other positions

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Paul Pogba has been out of action since injuring his hamstring against Basel

It may not take much for Jose Mourinho to blow his top but, after almost two months of what must have felt like unbearable pressure, the ‘P’ word finally erupted from his mouth.

“I think any other manager would be speaking about Pogba every day,” said Mourinho earlier this week, before mentioning Paul Pogba another five times.

‘Oh I don’t have Pogba. Oh, when I have Pogba. Oh, 10 matches without Pogba. Oh, all the Champions League group phase without Pogba. Oh, all the big matches against Liverpool, against Chelsea, against Spurs without Pogba.’

And breathe. To give Mourinho credit he has indeed kept shtum on Pogba for the most part since that hamstring injury in September – and he would have found very few sympathetic ears outside the corridors of Carrington if he hadn’t.

That United have the creativity of tracing paper without their record signing is no excuse given the millions they have chucked at other areas of their attack. United scored two goals in three Premier League games last month, a number even rudderless Everton managed to beat.

Mourinho’s tactics have come under fire – although it’s rather bizarre that anyone was surprised by his trademark pragmatism against Liverpool – and now he has lobbed a verbal grenade at the fans who have questioned Romelu Lukaku’s form.

Mourinho is right to leap to Lukaku’s defence even if he was wrong to go on the attack. The Belgian has in fact been United’s biggest creative outlet of late, whipping in the cross that gave them hope against Huddersfield before his superb flicked header helped Anthony Martial down Tottenham.

Behind the big man is where the dysfunction lies. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has lost his head, and frequently possession, since his early spurt of form. Juan Mata elicits nothing more than a faint shrug when he’s in the team – a pretty player lacking substance.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action against Benfica has struggled for form

Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action against Benfica has struggled for form

Marouane Fellaini may be the least pretty of them all but he was certainly make things happen before his injury and the replacement of Pogba’s replacement, Ander Herrera, looks utterly bereft of form as his contract standoff drags on.

Ultimately there will always be a disconnect between the swashbuckling tradition of the club and Mourinho’s percentage game but in Pogba, the Portuguese has a player that bridges the divide.

Pogba is so talented that Mourinho enables him to play just a little outside his structure, as he twirls around his markers and makes improbable passes seem impossibly easy.

If Manchester City are powered by Kevin De Bruyne, and Tottenham lean on Christian Eriksen, then it stands to reason those teams would feel the loss of their entertainer-in-chief too.

It is fitting that the fan disgruntlement boiled to the surface just ahead of Mourinho’s return to a Chelsea, a place he insists still loves him no matter the enmity that has since arisen from managing the world’s most ‘hated’ club.

When the Stamford Bridge support think of Mourinho’s cherished Chelsea sides they summon images of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba. Perform the same thought experiment with United and do you yet credit him for the rise of Marcus Rashford? Has he turned Phil Jones into a titanic Terry-like figure? Not quite.

You instead may think of the man with many haircuts and the easy-going smile who softens Mourinho’s rough edges. For both his and the fans’ sake, Pogba’s return could not come soon enough.

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Both Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku need to silence the critics as Chelsea host Man United

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Romelu Lukaku has scored seven goals in 10 Premier League games

Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku will be under pressure to fire their teams back into the Premier League title race when the misfiring strikers clash in Chelsea‘s showdown with Manchester United on Sunday.

Chelsea forward Morata and United front man Lukaku were the toast of their clubs after celebrating their close-season transfers with a barrage of goals.

But, with Chelsea and United battling to keep pace with leaders Manchester City, Morata and Lukaku have lost their midas touch at the wrong moment, putting them under the microscope at Stamford Bridge this weekend.

United manager Jose Mourinho splashed out £75million to sign Lukaku from Everton after persuading the Belgium international to snub interest from Blues boss Antonio Conte.

Lukaku was off to a fast start, netting 11 times in his first 10 games. However, the 24-year-old finds himself in the midst of a barren spell stretching back six games to the end of September.

United fans have grown frustrated by Lukaku’s lack of contributions outside the penalty area, prompting Mourinho to chastise Old Trafford crowd for failing to give the striker enough support in last weekend’s win over Tottenham.

Lukaku responded to the doubters by admitting he is still a work in progress.

“You can’t judge me as the finished article. I’d rather have a career where year after year I improve rather than going to the top and decline,” he said.

“I know I have a lot of talent, but I want to have more assists, I want to make sure when my team is in difficulties they can count on me.”

After missing out on Lukaku, Conte settled for Morata as an expensive consolation prize. Morata hit the ground running with seven goals in his first seven games following his club record £58million move from Real Madrid.

But, like Lukaku, the 25-year-old Spaniard has failed to score in his last six games, earning criticism for some lethargic displays.

Morata also had to claim he had been misquoted after an interview in which he appeared to hint he wouldn’t stay with Chelsea for long because he doesn’t enjoy London’s hectic lifestyle.

– High stakes –

In the circumstances, Morata and Lukaku could do with silencing the critics by producing a priceless winner at the Bridge. Both players carried hefty price tags because of the belief they were ready to deliver when the stakes are highest.

That will be the case in west London this weekend as champions Chelsea try to claw their way back into the title race. Fourth placed Chelsea are four points behind second placed United and nine points adrift of table-toppers City.

Conte’s side crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday, erasing the momentum from successive league wins over Watford and Bournemouth.

United are five points behind City after winning only one of their last three league games, although they made it three successive wins in all competitions by beating Benfica in midweek.

Mourinho will be hoping for better luck on his latest return to Chelsea — the club where he won three English titles and was sacked twice — after United lost both their visits last season.

Abused by Chelsea fans during United’s 4-0 and 1-0 defeats, Mourinho insists he doesn’t attach special significance to the fixture.

“It isn’t a big thing. It’s normal, it’s football. One day you are in one club, the next day you’re in another club,” he said.

Conte, who will give N’Golo Kante a late fitness test on his hamstring injury, admits Chelsea no longer have any margin for error if they are to overhaul United and City.

“Now there is a big problem for all the teams that want to fight for the title and this big problem is Manchester City,” Conte said.

“If they continue in this way it will be very difficult to fight for the title.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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