Romelu Lukaku has more history to make and other Man United talking points

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Romelu Lukaku goes close to getting his 101st Premier League goal (PA).

Belgium centre forward Romelu Lukaku’s 100th Premier League goal set Manchester United on their way to a comfortable 2-0 victory against relegation-threatened Swansea.

Jose Mourinho’s men raced out of the blocks and put the Welshmen to the sword in a confident first-half display. A fine team move was finished off by Lukaku’s deflected shot to reach his century on five minutes, with the lively Jesse Lingard soon teeing up Chile attacker Alexis Sanchez to emphatically slot in the other.

The win saw United usurp Liverpool into second spot, with a game in hand.

LUKAKU’S LATEST LANDMARK

Lukaku’s opener for United saw him join an exclusive club.

Only 28 players since the Premier League’s formation for 1992/93 have scored 100 or more goals. He is only the fifth-youngest footballer to do this, at 24 years and 322 days.

This brilliance is further exemplified by the fact 2017/18 is the only campaign as a guaranteed starter at an English giant. Lukaku would surely have gotten there sooner if he’d not been in the stands at Chelsea, on loan at the mid-table West Bromwich Albion or on the outskirts of the European spots at Everton.

The same cannot be said of the quartet who beat him to the ton – Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler (both Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (the vast majority of his century came at United) and Harry Kane (Tottenham).

Lukaku’s challenge is to ensure his form since the turn of 2018 – and at the start of 2017/18 – is extended throughout 2018/19. A current tally of 26 strikes in 45 appearances after the summer’s £75 million (Dh386.1m) move would be far greater if not for his relative dry spell from early October-mid November.

In this calendar year for club and country, he’s struck a phenomenal 13 times in 16 run-outs. That’s title-winning form.

FINDING THE BALANCE

Concocting a winning formula at United in the top flight has proven strangely elusive for manager Mourinho.

The January addition of celebrated forward Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal was meant to provide the missing ingredient, but the phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” has sprung to mind since.

But this one-sided contest against Swansea proved an insight into a glorious way forward.

Rather than look to play through the Chile international, he was utilised far more as a penalty-box threat when cutting inside from the left in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Playmaking was left to England’s emerging threat, Lingard.

For all 29-year-old’s Sanchez’s brilliance, a conductor cannot lose the ball 42 times as he did in the shameful round-of-16 deciding loss to Sevilla in the Champions League.

The reward for Mourinho was a goal and an assist. This was the 11th time he’d done this in the Premier League – and first for United.

Adroit interplay for the first between Sanchez and Lingard was also illustrative.

Further back, fellow recalled superstar Paul Pogba put in a mature display after two games on the bench.

As one of the holding pair in midfield, he delivered a joint-team high of three key passes from a respectable 91.4-per-cent pass accuracy.

On such form, the wait since January 15 to move into double digits for Premier League assists will soon end. Flashes of brilliance to match his lightning free-kick for France in Russia should also follow.

Bringing the best out of such elite talents is key for the giant step from second to first next term.

Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez (second right) celebrates with his team-mates (PA).

Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez (second right) celebrates United’s second goal (PA).

LINDELOF DESERVES A LUCK IN

The reintroduction of Sweden centre-back Victor Lindelof slipped under the radar when the team sheets were presented an hour before kick-off.

All eyes had been on the roles handed to Sanchez and Pogba. Just like that pair, Mourinho’s faith was rewarded with a positive display.

The technical ability of the £30.8m (Dh158.7m) summer signing from Benfica has never been in question. That he led the way with 97.4 per-cent pass accuracy is no surprise.

Rather, it is the 23-year-old’s ability to handle the more prosaic arts of defending that have been questioned.

On Saturday, the Old Trafford-faithful saw a different Lindelof. In the early stages, he cut through Swans midfielder Sam Clucas to win a loose ball and charged repeatedly past Ghana forward Andre Ayew.

His tally of three interceptions, three clearances and one tackle was equal to partner Chris Smalling, who possesses experience of 165 more Premier League games.

Lindelof’s integration has been slower than expected. Yet, evidence grows he could still come good.

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Man United player ratings as Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard impress

Alex Rea 31/03/2018
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Alexis Sanchez celebrates his goal

Romelu Lukaku’s 100th Premier League goal set Manchester United on course for a comfortable victory against relegation-threatened Swansea.

Putting aside the spectre of Manchester City winning the title in next weekend’s derby clash, Jose Mourinho’s men regained second spot from Liverpool thanks to a superb first-half display at Old Trafford.

Summer signing Lukaku’s 100th top-flight goal was complemented by Alexis Sanchez’s second since arriving in January as United ran out deserved 2-0 victors against Carlos Carvalhal’s Swansea.

Here, we rate the United players after a comfortable win.

MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1)

David De Gea – Is there a debate? The best goalkeeper in the world right now and justified that tag once more with two outstanding saves to deny Tammy Abraham. United must pony up – money that is and not hair – to ensure he remains with the club. 8

Antonio Valencia – With Mata operating more infield, the emphasis was on Valencia to provide width from the right but his delivery, as is often the case these days was below standard. A rock defensively but that’s not enough for a modern right-back anymore. 6

Victor Lindelof – Vindicated the decision of Mourinho to start him and looks far more assured in this United team now. Stepped out of defence to be the extra option in midfield and provided quality passing out the back. Aggressive when he needed to be as well. 7

Chris Smalling – There is a collective pang of disgust from United fans when Smalling is named in United’s starting XI and his shaky display will do little to erode the feeling Eric Bailly should be in the side when fit. 5

Ashley Young – As was the case with Valencia on the opposite flank, Sanchez’s insistence to wriggle infield meant he was required to deliver quality from the left. He didn’t, three crosses was the second most for United and all were inaccurate. 6

Nemanja Matic – Mourinho opted for a midfield axis of Pogba and Matic for the first time since the defeat to Newcastle and both oozed class. Matic bossed the ball in the air and on the deck. 7

Paul Pogba – The 4-2-3-1 seems almost designed to bring the worst of Pogba but the Frenchman was bright, particularly in the first half. Forced to impact the game from a deeper position but he dictated United’s points of attacks with his varied passing. 7

Juan Mata – Mata probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves but his influence on United’s attackers is huge. He brings so much balance when he’s in the XI and the Spaniard’s presence brought the best out of Sanchez and Lingard. 8

Jesse Lingard – Electric. He impressed for England during the international break in a more central role and took up the No10 spot against Swansea, picking at the space between the lines and laying on a superb assist for Sanchez. 8

Alexis Sanchez – The goal will lift a lot of pressure off his shoulders. Took it beautifully, timed his run masterfully and Mourinho will be delighted to see the Chilean on the end of moves rather than deeper in the build-up. Also grabbed a neat assist for the opener. 7

Romelu Lukaku – The youngest ever foreign player to reach 100 Premier League goals. The Belgian was irrepressible at times. A little fortunate with his strike deflecting into the back of the net but a big performance from Lukaku. 7

SUBSTITUTES

Marcus Rashford – Game was effectively over when he arrived on the scene for the last 15 minutes. 6

Ander Herrera – Brought on alongside Rashford as United professionally saw the game out. 6

Scott McTominay – Was brought on during injury time for Mata. N/A

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Mohamed Salah's hot streak continues as Liverpool come from behind to beat Crystal Palace 2-1

Carl Markham 31/03/2018
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Mohamed Salah celebrates his winner

Mohamed Salah scored his 37th goal of the season in all competitions as Liverpool came from behind to secure a vital 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace.

Sadio Mane had scored the Reds’ equalising goal before being fortunate to avoid a red card, and the visitors capitalised by securing all three points with Salah’s 84th-minute effort to maintain their pursuit of a second-place finish.

Palace led at half-time following Luka Milivojevic’s penalty but after conceding another late goal at Selhurst Park they remain at risk of relegation from the Premier League.

In addition to Wilfried Zaha passing a late fitness test to start, Roy Hodgson’s team had been further strengthened by the return to their starting XI of the fit-again Yohan Cabaye for the first time since the defeat at Everton on February 10.

They are yet to secure a league point this season in Zaha’s absence and he again demonstrated his importance to their ambitions when he tested Loris Karius early on.

After being sent one-on-one with the goalkeeper following a fine ball from Cabaye and despite minimal time and space, he controlled with his left foot amid suspicions of handball before shooting with his right and watching Karius clear.

When he again went rushing through on goal, Karius needlessly rushed out and clumsily took him down, leaving referee Neil Swarbrick with little choice but to award the hosts a 13th-minute penalty.

For the seventh time this season, Milivojevic scored from the penalty spot, shooting powerfully into the bottom left corner while Karius dived right, to give Palace the lead.

It was then that Mane attempted to impose himself. In his own attempts to win a penalty he appeared to dive under minimal contact from James McArthur and was booked.

He has at times struggled to reproduce the same form as last season while Mohamed Salah has excelled, and it was the Egyptian who tested Palace’s Wayne Hennessey with a curling effort the goalkeeper jumped to collect.

With a low header from Salah’s corner, Mane then forced Hennessey into a diving reaction save before McArthur scrambled clear, but Palace absorbed that pressure to retain their lead until four minutes into the second half.

Following James Milner’s low ball from the left wing, the alert Mane finished low at the near post beyond Hennessey and was soon fortunate not to be sent off.

Christian Benteke missed the first of two fine chances against his former team when a header from Milivojevic sent him one-on-one with Karius before his composure deserted him and he hooked harmlessly wide.

Almost immediately after, Andros Townsend’s run and pass put him into a similarly-promising position, but he then snatched at the ball and again shot over the crossbar.

With Liverpool still under threat, Mane conceded a free-kick with a blatant handball that should have led to a second yellow card.

He was soon substituted, and then watched as his replacement Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain contributed to Salah’s winning goal.

The midfielder’s cross from the right wing found Andrew Robertson on the left, and when he played the ball towards Salah, the Egyptian coolly finished low into the bottom corner to secure all three points.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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