How Manchester United Should Play Amid Lukaku’s Arrival

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Romelu Lukaku

After weeks of being linked to champions Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku looks set to snub Antonio Conte in favour of joining up with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.

The Red Devils recently confirmed the acceptance of their bid for Lukaku on their Twitter page.

According to The Guardian, the deal is worth £100 million with a £75 million up-front fee, an extra £15 million in, “easily attainable add-ons linked to achievements and appearances,” as well as the return of Wayne Rooney to Everton with Manchester United’s record goalscorer valued at around £10 million. Lukaku will become the second most expensive player in the history of the Premier League.

It is a massive outlay on a single player, even for a club with the spending power of Manchester United. Lukaku has not played in the Champions League since the 2010-11 season when he was one of Europe’s hottest prospects, at Anderlecht, in his native Belgium.

Mourinho, though, will be confident Lukaku can add goals to his side who often lacked cutting edge last season. The question then becomes, how will Manchester United look to set up with their new attacker?

Lukaku is Manchester United’s second signing of this window after the club signed Victor Lindelöf from Benfica. His addition means United’s backline picks itself: De Gea in goal and a back four of Valencia, Lindelöf, Bailly and Shaw/Darmian.

It is in the attacking positions that Lukaku’s arrival presents Jose with tough decisions, but also great opportunities. With Martial, Rashford, Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Mata all vying for starting spots Mourinho will have some tough choices to make.

Perhaps the most likely set-up, and the one that will get most fans out of their seats, is a 4-3-3. With the back four listed above providing great solidity, Mourinho might feel he can set up with real attacking intent further up the field.

A midfield three of Pogba, Herrera and Fellani or Fosu-Mensah would provide dynamism, passing ability and power. Pogba and Herrera could work to feed a fluid front three of Lukaku, Rashford and Martial, with their frightening pace and strength, they would give defences a torrid time.

If Mourinho was looking to play a little more defensively and mark opposition players out of the game, as he did in United’s surprise 2-0 win over Chelsea, he could move to a 3-5-2 with Lukaku playing alongside Rashford up front. Rashford could drop deep to pick up the ball or Lukaku could hold it up for Rashford to run onto.

Jose could then play a midfield five including Pogba, Herrera and Fellani alongside two wingbacks, likely Valencia and Darmian. Lindelöf, Bailly and Smalling could marshal the defence as a back three with Valencia, Darmian and Herrera all dropping back to make a back six when needed.

Jose isn’t afraid to play ugly and defend hard to win, and with Lukaku’s ability to hold the ball up and play with his back to goal, he is the ideal striker for when Mourinho wants to keep things tight.

Finally, if Jose wanted to employ three attacking weapons behind Lukaku, he could set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Mata, Mkhitaryan and Martial all providing a creative spark behind Lukaku. While Pogba is not always at his best in a midfield two, he is clearly able to play there alongside Herrera, and both player’s tackling ability should ensure United are not overrun. A 4-2-3-1 would likely provide a good balance between attack and defence.

Lukaku’s ability to make clever runs, to hold the ball up, to find space on the wings and to dominate defenders makes him the ideal striker for a number of differing situations. £75 million plus add-ons is a huge fee, but the flexibility Lukaku provides as well as his potential to improve might just make this deal a bargain for Manchester United.

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