Flat-track bully: not a term you’d want to be associated with; the label that you can’t hack it in the big games, a bottle job who is happy to turn up when the pressure is off. And, it’s a term most associated with Manchester United’s, Romelu Lukaku.
Often a striker never referred to in the ‘world-class’ bracket because of his ineffectiveness in the ‘big games’; a strike rate of just five goals in his last 35 games against the Premier League’s top six says that more than anything.
Of course, Lukaku’s finishing ability is not to be doubted; hitting double figures for five consecutive seasons in the Premier League with both West Brom and Everton is some achievement. But, there’s always been that question mark around Lukaku’s mental game; the side to you which makes you ‘world-class’; he’s often compared to Didier Drogba, but the big difference between the pair is Drogba’s incredible ability for *those* big moments.
On this day in 2004, Chelsea signed Didier Drogba. The biggest big game player. pic.twitter.com/eEvGeaUsrF
— Marathonbet (@marathonbet) August 15, 2017
There’s an obvious defence to Lukaku’s inability to perform when it matters, the fact he’s been playing with players in the caliber of West Brom and Everton – with all due respect to these players – are lacking the quality of Chelsea-esque stars.
However, where you can say that Lukaku struggles with pressure was evident with his first penalty attempt for United on a big stage such as Old Trafford; the miss against Kasper Schmeichel, despite the Leicester ‘keeper being off his line, showed Lukaku doesn’t like pressure.
Further to this, rewind the clock back to the 2015/16 season, again Lukaku misses a penalty for Everton against Manchester United in the FA Cup; big moments, big stage, poor execution.
If you then take this to the international stage, where Lukaku is surrounded by ‘better’ players compared to his career prior to United, the striker has scored just three goals at major tournaments from his 24 strikes – two of them being against Ireland at the Euros; *that* flat track bully reputation seems all too familiar on the international stage as well.
If you then compare a striker like Jamie Vardy to Lukaku, there are noticeable differences in the big games. The Englishman has found the net 19 times against top six opposition in the same period the Belgian has scored just five goals.
Vardy’s effectiveness and how he plays his football is naturally more suited to playing against the teams where you can counter; but, the nature of how prolific the Leicester man is against the big sides and his clear mental strength makes you wonder how Vardy would get on in the likes of Manchester United colours; big game player.
The work rate between the two is obvious to see, particularly when you compare their defensive work this season; a factor Vardy is always expected to trump Lukaku, but not by such a distance as noted thus far:
It is easy to call Lukaku out for his weaknesses by comparing him to Vardy’s strengths; but, if the Belgian ever wants to be in the ‘world-class’ bracket, or drag his club to a Premier League title – like Vardy did – then the 24-year-old has to start making an impact when it matters, and that starts at Anfield this coming Saturday.