When your best striker finished last season with just 15 goals to his name, you know you’ve got some serious issues. Manchester United’s miserable campaign last year seemed to be perfectly encapsulated by their struggles in front of goal, and their work in the summer transfer window has only served to heighten the feeling they simply don’t have enough firepower.
Romelu Lukaku left to join Serie A giants Inter Milan in a £73m deal after just two years at Old Trafford, whilst Alexis Sanchez joined the Belgian in making the move to the San Siro. They may not have had the best of times last season, but they represented the only members of the squad with a proven track-record of finding the back of the net.
But with both now gone, the Red Devils have really left themselves in the lurch. The club have been blessed with some extraordinary options up front over the past couple of decades, but the potency that characterised previous eras is non-existent in 2019.
Be warned United fans, this won’t make for pretty reading.
In arguably United’s finest season in recent memory, Ferguson’s side did the remarkable by winning the Premier League, FA Cup and the Champions League in one season. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke’s strike partnership was crucial to United’s success, as the duo struck up an almost telepathic understanding.
But as legend tells us, United’s two biggest heroes of the campaign were Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham – the super-subs who came on to turn the Champions League final on its head against Bayern Munich. It spoke to the depth of options Sir Alex had that his ‘second-choice’ front-line were the biggest reason behind them clinching the biggest trophy of them all.
When you’ve got Cristiano Ronaldo in your ranks, you’re bound to have a decent season. The Juventus forward was approaching the peak years of his career, and his total of 42 goals for the season made up half of what United’s strikers scored as a whole (84). Whilst the Portuguese superstar was undoubtedly the headline act, both Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez played their supporting roles superbly well.
Rooney’s 14 assists for the season pointed to how the former England international was more than content to play second-fiddle, whilst Tevez brought his much-heralded tenacity and energy whenever he stepped onto the pitch. Ferguson had a forward-line that essentially possessed it all. Pace, power, movement and clinical finishing.
In what turned out to be Sir Alex’s final year in charge at Old Trafford, United’s big signing of the season, Robin van Persie, carried the Red Devils to yet another Premier League title. The Dutchman arrived from rivals Arsenal in the summer transfer window, and proved exactly why the club brought him in.
In essence, the 2012/2013 campaign mirrored that of the year in which Ronaldo led United to the Champions League. Van Persie played the Ronaldo role with his sheer volume of goals, Rooney was the selfless Rooney once more, and Javier Hernandez did what Tevez did by giving United an extra goal-scoring option either off the bench or as a starter. It was the perfect symbol of how a well coordinated attack should look like.
Oh boy. To put this miserable-looking chart into perspective, United’s combined total of 42 goals from their four leading options up front was the exact same that Ronaldo managed all on his own in the 2008/2009 campaign.
Whether it was with Jose Mourinho at the helm, or with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Red Devils looked a shadow of their former selves. Whilst the former appeared to favour Lukaku as the side’s focal point, the latter wanted to inject more pace and movement, and opted to play Marcus Rashford as the number nine. Two different systems, the same end result. Nada.
For all the criticism directed at Lukaku, the Belgian was hardly woeful. His time at Everton underlined his proficiency, and Solskjaer was arguably too quick to judge him for a relatively poor campaign last year. The season before, the 26-year-old bagged 27 goals and recorded nine assists.
Everybody involved in football, however, appear to have such short-term memories that those achievements rapidly became irrelevant.
United’s strike-force collectively failed last season. ‘Scape-goating‘ Lukaku as the reason behind that seems incredibly short-sighted on Solskjaer’s part. Alexis Sanchez’s loan exit further undermines the strength in depth the Red Devils have up front.
The club with 20 titles to their name now boast an attacking front-line of Rashford, Anthony Martial and a 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, who has yet to score a competitive goal for the senior side. How the mighty have fallen.
Lukaku may well have been a flat-track bully, but at least he was a guarantee of a set amount of goals every season.
United’s hastiness in getting rid of him just looks all the more foolish when you consider the lack of firepower residing within the ranks.