The pressure upon Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho became even more intense on Tuesday night when his side slumped to a pathetic 0-0 draw against Valencia in a Champions League group stage game at Old Trafford.
Whilst the divisive Portuguese boss certainly deserves his fair share of the blame for United’s rotten recent form, questions must now be asked of the players’ own commitment and performance levels.
None of the Red Devils’ many big stars were able to shine against Valencia and the home side were booed off by their own fans after the final whilst brought an end to another drab display.
Mourinho’s defensive tactics are notorious. However, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford all in the starting XI, United still ought to have mustered far more than the meagre four shots on target they in fact managed.
Two of those shots on target came courtesy of Lukaku. That isn’t to say that the Belgium international was United’s standout performer. The 6’3” forward had a night to forget against Los Che.
Having spent an initial £75 million to sign Lukaku from Everton in 2017, the 25-year-old took on the burden of being United’s main goal threat. On nights like Tuesday, when the Red Devils are failing to click, they’ll be reliant upon their big No. 9 to make the difference. Against Valencia, Lukaku was found wanting.
Despite his two shots on goal – from only four shots attempted – Lukaku was a peripheral figure in the match, and when he was called into action he failed to deliver when his side needed it most.
Lukaku managed just 33 touches against Valencia. Only David De Gea, of the United starters, touched the ball less. Considering the away side mustered just the single shot on target, the Spanish ‘keeper’s lack of involvement is understandable and even a positive sign. In Lukaku’s case, however, it is merely evidence of his isolation on the park.
Cut adrift from his teammates, the 77-cap man was far too easy to mark out of the game. When he did have opportunities to involve himself in the match though, his hold up play repeatedly let him down.
In the match, Lukaku won just the one aerial duel. Across last season’s Champions League campaign, in contrast, he averaged 4.5 aerial duels won per match. Valencia were also able to dispossess Lukaku on three occasions, and he performed three unsuccessful touches.
When Lukaku was able to bring the ball under control, he was ineffective with it. He completed 16 passes over the course of the 90 minutes – at a respectable pass accuracy rating of 87.5% – but was not able to register a single key pass. On top that, he was only able to complete one dribble.
The most memorable moment of the match for Lukaku (for all the wrong reasons) was the instance when, attempting a step over, the forward contrived to stumble on the ball and kick it back behind himself.
Lukaku was possibly not the worst player on the pitch for United against Valencia – he was scarcely involved enough to claim that dubious honour – but considering his status at the club, United need him to produce on the biggest stage and on Tuesday night he failed.