London: With Zlatan Ibrahimovic fit again and closely scrutinising his performances from the substitutes’ bench, Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is under pressure to rediscover his goal-scoring touch.
Having scored 11 goals in his first 10 games following his £75 million ($100.8 million) switch from Everton, Lukaku has found the net only once in 12 matches since.
Manager Jose Mourinho continues to profess satisfaction with Lukaku’s all-round displays, but the longer the Belgian striker’s difficulties continue, the bigger a point of concern it will become.
“For a striker, it is all about your goals and unfortunately people will always measure him by that, but away from the goals his contribution has to be big,” says former United captain Gary Neville.
“He’s had his struggles. That was always going to happen at some point after his blistering start, but this is a critical stage of the season where he has to deliver.”
Question marks are hovering above Lukaku as United approach a potentially pivotal week in their season.
They host CSKA Moscow in the Champions League today and face Premier League pace-setters Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday in a derby they must win if they are make up ground in the title race.
United were made to wait for a place in the knockout phase after conceding late in a 1-0 defeat at Basel, but Mourinho’s team are still all but guaranteed to reach the last 16.
United, who were indebted to a starring display from goalkeeper David de Gea in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Arsenal, must simply avoid losing by more than six goals at home to CSKA Moscow.
For the Russians to pip Basel to the other qualifying spot they need to better the Swiss club’s result away to pointless Benfica.
United are unbeaten in 20 European home games, but CSKA have won all four matches on their travels this season having come through two rounds of qualifiers.
Lukaku’s recent displays suggest if United are to get the results they need, their goals are unlikely to come from him.
His frustrations appeared to tell during United’s 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion when he kicked out at Gaetan Bong in an incident caught on camera but for which he avoided retrospective punishment.