When Romelu Lukaku chose to move to Manchester United, regular fixtures like the one he has on Tuesday night are what he expected.
The Belgian has craved Champions League football, but after failing to make the grade at Chelsea early in his career, he’s had to wait for his first taste of Europe’s preeminent club competition having only featured in qualifying games with Anderlecht as a teenager.
As he prepares to make his Champions League debut, Lukaku looks ready for the grand stage.
He has made a hot start to life at the Old Trafford club, scoring five goals in his first five appearances, and comes into Tuesday’s game against Basel having scored nine times in seven games for club and country so far this season. Clearly, this is a man in form. Not to mention, a striker who on Saturday scored the 150th goal of his club career, at the age of just 24.
In that regard, Lukaku holds his own against some of the very best goalscorers of modern times – Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Didier Drogba are a few of the names who hadn’t hit the 150 mark at the same age.
The knock against Lukaku has always been his record against the top sides. He has five league goals against last season’s top six in 34 appearances since 2014/15, a stat that detracts from his overall scoring record – only Sergio Aguero has scored more Premier League goals since 2012/13.
Really shouldn’t bring up big sides when Lukaku goes missing pic.twitter.com/qfCY7I3ONy
— Don Jon (@Hideyourmissus) July 20, 2017
Yet there are signs Lukaku is shrugging off the flat-track bully description. Of those five league goals, four of them came last season, which shows that he’s begun coming into his own against top opposition.
For comparison, across all competitions last season, Lukaku had as many goals against the top six as Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero (four), and more than Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Alexis Sanchez.
Tuesday night’s fixture will not be the one which tests Lukaku’s reputation. The true test will come later, if the club navigates the group stages as expected. If United come up against one of Europe’s powerhouses in a knockout tie, Lukaku will get the stage he’s been waiting for, along with the opportunity to quieten his critics.
But a goal in a winning performance against Basel would be the perfect start.
Manchester City face Dutch champions Feyenoord in the first match of their latest Champions League campaign on Wednesday.
Here are some of the talking points ahead of the Group F clash.
City’s new Brazilian goalkeeper was cleared of serious injury following his nasty clash with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane at the weekend but remains a doubt. The £35million signing looked in a bad way as he was carried off on a stretcher after receiving treatment on the field for around eight minutes during Saturday’s Premier League game.
A photograph released since has shown eight stitches in wounds on the side of his face.
The 24-year-old does has been impressive but playing him again so soon could be risky.
Ederson’s face after Sadio Mané booted him on Saturday. 😳 pic.twitter.com/zbpcDs0lRA
— Football__Tweet (@Football__Tweet) September 11, 2017
City boss Pep Guardiola has started with both his main strikers up front in three of their four games so far with Jesus deployed alone in the other.
Guardiola has indicated he will vary his approach throughout the campaign, saying there will be games when both players, either one or other, or neither will play.
Yet on the evidence of the 5-0 thrashing of Liverpool, the pair have the beginnings of a good understanding. Strike partnerships may have gone out of fashion to a degree but the potency of these two could change that, at City at least.
This is the club’s sixth successive Champions League campaign but they are still to really come of age in the competition despite reaching the semi-finals in 2016 and then bringing in two-time winning manager Guardiola. The team fell short at the last-16 stage last season, exposed by the attacking brilliance of Monaco.
Guardiola has since addressed some areas of weakness, notably in goal and both full-back positions. He now has more players for his desired style but City may not have bridged the gap to the elite yet.
The general opinion after the draw was that City should be happy but they have come unstuck against Dutch champions before, losing to Ajax in 2012. Guardiola has also said Napoli are one of the three best sides in Europe in terms of style while the long trip to face Shakhtar Donetsk in Kharkiv in December could be tricky.
The Rotterdam club, coached by former Arsenal player Giovanni van Bronkhorst, won their first Dutch title in 18 years last season and are returning to the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2002. They have opened their campaign with four successive wins and again top the Eredivisie.
Goalkeeper Brad Jones will be remembered in England for spells with Middlesbrough and Liverpool while midfielder Karim El Ahmadi was at Aston Villa from 2012-14 and scored one of his three Premier League goals against City.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United will set about conquering a new European frontier as their Champions League campaign gets underway against Basel at Old Trafford.
But do they have enough to challenge the rest of European’s elite? And what storylines are there to look out for ahead of the opening match?
We pick out the three main talking points below …
Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling had been twiddling their thumbs while centre-backs Eric Bailly and Phil Jones made a confident start to the season, but the chinks in that particular armour were ruthlessly exposed by… Stoke.
Bailly and Jones were at fault for both goals in the 2-2 draw and if Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is enough to make their knees wobbly – this is a man who scored three times for Schalke last year – one wonders what European’s elite can do.
Basel, of course, are a few rungs short of the best but Lindelof and Smalling have a real chance to impress Jose Mourinho, who yesterday insisted the duo are ‘the same level as (Bailly and Jones), just different players’.
Bailly and Jones’ red-hot start to the season won’t be discounted by the boss going forward – but this battle at the back is one to watch.
The last time United stomped on all-comers on their way to the Champions League knockout stages was, of course, under the great David Moyes.
The Scot relied on the remnants of Fergie’s experienced squad to finish top of their group with 12 points and 12 goals, as Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – who made a competition-high eight assists – led the way.
Worryingly, the majority of the current crop have very few Champions League minutes. Marcus Rashford is yet to make an appearance. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has made seven, but zero goals and zero assists.
The most European glamour Romelu Lukaku has experienced is against perennial Welsh champions TNS with Anderlecht. That’s not a lot of attacking know-how.
United’s squad flourished in the Europa League and that will help somewhat – but Michael Carrick is the only Champions League winner in the entire squad, with Paul Pogba a losing finalist.
They will have to learn as they go along. Is it a season too soon to expect big things?
Mourinho often gives the impression of a protective father when discussing the qualities of Marouane Fellaini in front of the media.
He quipped that Galatasaray had more chance signing him than Fellaini when rumours started swirling during the transfer window, and seemed distressed that the big Belgian was injured for the game against Stoke.
There is no guarantee that the 29-year-old will return for tonight’s match but is worth nothing that in Mourinho’s eyes, his presence is ‘more important than you can imagine’.
Just take a look at how he was utilised in the Europa League last season. He played a whopping 11 games, starting in seven, and won a competition record 15 aerial duels in the final.
If United are still a step behind Real Madrid, Juventus et al, they at least have a unique weapon in Fellaini. It’ll go one of two ways – he’ll be an unsung hero or an elbow-flinging disaster.