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.