The post-Jose Mourinho era at Manchester United is well underway, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer making an unbeaten start to his time in the role of interim manager. The Red Devils failed to win for the first time under the Norwegian on Tuesday night, drawing at home to Burnley.
It was the first time Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku started a game together under Solskjaer. Rashford has assumed the role of United’s first-choice central striker since Mourinho’s departure, and is arguably playing the best football of his career.
That’s reduced Lukaku to the role of understudy, with his two starts prior to Tuesday’s game coming in the FA Cup. The experiment of playing United’s No 9 and No 10 together against Burnley didn’t work though. Lukaku did put one on a plate for Rashford in the opening exchanges, but the partnership failed to fire after that.
Lukaku’s lack of movement was exposed once again, and his presence inhibited Rashford’s ability to run the channels and stretch the back four. Solskjaer wants a more dynamic attack compared to his predecessor at Old Trafford, with faster transitions aimed at utilising the pace of forwards such as Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Rashford.
All that leaves Lukaku’s position at Old Trafford in doubt. The Belgian was brought in for an initial £75m, with add-ons seeing his potential transfer fee rise to £90m. Even in today’s inflated market, that’s a colossal amount.
It’s not the sort of investment you expect for a bit-part player who’s going to sit on the bench for the big games and only start in the cup competitions. Just look at Alvaro Morata at Chelsea. As soon as it became clear the big-money signing wasn’t going to be first choice, he’s out the door.
Lukaku himself won’t be happy sitting on the bench, and he won’t think he deserves to considering the number of goals he’s scored in his career. The 25-year-old is on 142 goals in 314 league appearances in England and Belgium, and is the youngest overseas player to bring up his century in the Premier League. Including internationals, he has 226 career goals.
There won’t be any shortage of takers for his services, with Italian giants Juventus and Milan linked with a move in recent weeks. The Rossoneri have taken care of Gonzalo Higuain’s departure by signing Krzysztof Piatek from Genoa, so a move to the San Siro looks very unlikely.
It’s 6/1 for Lukaku to join Milan this month, while Juve are also 6/1. Turin seems an unlikely destination too though, considering the Old Lady’s attacking options include Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic.
The fact that United have a temporary boss in the form of on-loan Solskjaer would also suggest the sale of their second-biggest ever signing is doubtful. However, the interim boss has stated he’s shaping plans for next season, whoever’s in the Old Trafford hot seat. Marouane Fellaini’s imminent departure for China is indicative of this.
Yet it’s a different scenario with Lukaku, despite his prospects under Solskjaer. The Belgian is 1/5 to stay at United this month. There are few big European sides looking to recruit a striker before Thursday’s transfer deadline, especially ones Lukaku would envisage himself joining. Considering his impact off the bench and in the cup, the versatility he showed in United’s recent 3-1 victory at Arsenal, and the fact the Reds are still fighting on three fronts, there’s almost no chance of Lukaku leaving Manchester United right now.