Romelu Lukaku must be held to high standards

By Matt Jones 22/02/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

Given Everton’s woeful record with centre-forwards over the last decade, it may seem a little harsh to poke holes in the accomplished make-up of Romelu Lukaku.

That's because the Belgian has been tremendous this season. He’s led the line with distinction, improved vital facets of his game and stuck the ball in the back of the net on 21 occasions. Lukaku is, without doubt, the finest striker the Toffees have had in a generation and a player the club should feel privileged to be in possession of.

Still, a lot fans are craving something extra from the striker. The man himself does too and understands the expectations which many have.

“Look at Neymar. Neymar is not much older than me but he gets tonnes of criticism if he does not play well,” said Lukaku recently when asked about the level of expectation which accompanies him. “So if one day I aspire to be like one of them then why should I complain now? Just take it.”

And watching Lukaku in recent weeks, there’s still an unshakeable sense that there’s still a lot more to come from this truly unique 22-year-old.

The showing against Bournemouth in the FA Cup fifth round at the weekend was indicative of Lukaku’s recent efforts. Overall, he was sloppy in possession, laboured in his movement and ropey in his link-up play. Yet intertwined there were moments, like his superb surge down the left and the snappy reactions for his goal, when the Belgian set the game ablaze.

For many, including the BBC panel who chose Lukaku as their man of the match, goals champion all. His second half strike will be enough for some to validate what was an uneven display and even those who had been critical of the striker in-game will revise their opinions based on a second half tap-in.

Neither the supporters nor the manager should be apprehensive of wanting more, though, as with a few tweaks, Lukaku could feasibly become an even bigger menace.

Work-rate, whether demanded of him by Martinez or not, is obviously an area which needs to be improved. At times Lukaku is lackadaisical off the ball, unwilling to close opposition players down and often too static a target when his team-mates are in possession. “I walked further with my dog this morning” said Harry Redknapp on Saturday of Lukaku’s efforts.

There are also times when the ball doesn’t come to him that the Belgian will show his frustration and switch off. It’s a stark contrast to players like Luis Suarez or Sergio Aguero, who get so many of their chances from making darts, checking their run, then immediately going again, capitalising when defenders relax. Those razor sharp levels of alertness are only occasionally on show from Lukaku.

The Belgian needs to ensure he has a sustained effect on games, even when, as was the case against West Bromwich Albion in Everton’s last league outing, the opposition seeks to smother him. Whether that’s roughing up opponents, moving into wide positions or hustling defenders, the very best forwards are always involved.

Granted, there are certain caveats to consider. A lull like the one he’s currently in was always to be expected, with only Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley playing more minutes than the Belgian this season. The youngster has had little support up top too, something which will hopefully be addressed by the acquisition of Oumar Niasse.

At his best, he’s a force of nature. Lukaku’s performance at home to Stoke City, in which he scored two goals in a remarkable 4-3 defeat, was the best all-round centre-forward display Goodison Park has seen for a decade.

That day he was everywhere, chasing back, driving forward, on the end of crosses. It was a showing which made the prospect of the Belgian becoming the best forward on the planet, something his manager thinks he is capable of, seem feasible rather than fanciful.

But in the games when things aren’t going the striker’s way, when the the service isn’t quite there and when he isn’t feeling 100 per cent, that’s when he needs to do more. Lukaku will always score goals, in form or not, yet there’s a significant chasm between his all-round play at its best and any standard which falls below that.

In terms of physical attributes and natural ability, he far surpasses the likes of Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, the only two players to have scored as many goals as him in the Premier League this term. But those two are perennial pests to opposition defenders, whereas, at the moment, Lukaku is a forward who sizzles in stints.

If Lukaku wants to reach the levels he, his manager and so many others expect of him, then this is where he needs to make strides. Industry, physicality and vigilance are not inherent features either, they should be learnable for a player still in the early stages of his career.

Encouragingly they’re traits which Lukaku has showcased at times, particularly in games against the Potters, at the Hawthorns and versus Liverpool, to name a few. In those matches there was a tremendous nuisance factor about the former Chelsea man to complement his goalscoring.

Of course, we’re holding Lukaku to extremely high standards and it may seem finicky to point out some of these flaws in what has been a magnificent season. But as a driven, ambitious and intelligent young man, you can bet he’ll be just as analytical and insatiable in his quest to improve.

The Belgian is a special talent and while he’s already one of the finest goalscorers in the English game, the potential is there for him to become so much more.

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