Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has ruled out the possibility of resting striker Romelu Lukaku ahead of his side’s clash with Southampton, despite having Zlatan Ibrahimovic available and has also hinted that until both strikers aren’t fully fit, they won’t start together.
“No, I can’t (give Lukaku a rest),”Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
The £75 million acquisition has looked a little jaded in matches of late and while Mourinho admitted he was aware of the fact that the Belgian has started 20 league games in a row, he stated with the fact that Ibrahimovic not at full fitness, he doesn’t have a choice.
“Now, I say 20 matches in the Premier League, 90 minutes (for Lukaku). I think for a striker, for any player, (it) is absolutely incredible. But if you are central defender, if you are a holding midfield player, if you are in certain kinds of positions where you can control your energy and positional play a little bit more, you can resist and survive,” the Portuguese tactician added.
“But, for a striker in the Premier League, to play 20 matches, 90 minutes, I have to be very grateful for his personality and for his character. He’s been unlucky in our box in recent matches. He was in the picture, I’m not saying he was a direct influence, in some of the latest goals we conceded. It’s a consequence of a player who really needs a little rest or just a consequence of the moment of the occasion. But the guy is fantastic for me and the team and gives absolutely everything and I have no criticisms.”
Lukaku got his United career off to a flyer by scoring a brace on his Premier League debut against West Ham United and notched 10 goals in his first 9 appearances (all competitions) to suggest the Red Devils had spent their money wisely.
However, a barren run for seven games saw him come under a barrage of criticism and as United lost key games to Chelsea, Manchester City, in which Lukaku failed to score, many felt the burly striker was little more than a flat-track bully.
However, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still recuperating from a long-term knee injury and Marcus Rashford being utilised as a winger mainly, United didn’t have a direct replacement for their No.9 and continued to utilise him in Premier League and UEFA Champions League games.
“One is not because the situation in this team didn’t allow him to have any rest and is giving absolutely everything in every minute and we just managed to give him a little rest in cup matches and, even so, he was on the bench for emergency situations.”
“The Champions League was about the same – we had to fight until the last match for qualification and the boy is tired. He’s physically a monster but he’s not a machine and I think he’s feeling it.”
Zlatan, who was expected to return to the field after December, made a remarkable recovery to make his comeback two months earlier than expected, but the veteran Swede has looked rusty and has scored just once, against Brighton in the EFL Cup, so far.
Mourinho opted to start both forwards together for the first time this season when United hosted Burnley in mid-week, but the experiment nearly cost them the game as the hosts found themselves 2-0 down at half-time.
Considering both aren’t the most mobile forwards out there, it was not a surprise to see them struggle to link up and while United managed to salvage a 2-2 draw on the night, they ceded further ground to leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race.
Mourinho admitted both players weren’t at 100 per cent at the moment, for different reasons, and until they were in top shape, he wouldn’t be starting them together.
“And Zlatan is a man with an incredible injury, an injury that a 20-year-old man or a 20-year-old young man would suffer (from). Imagine a man who is 37 years old and so many miles in high-level football, so it’s not easy. We did that (play the two together) against Burnley and we will do that in some more matches if we need to do it, but I think for both of them to play together, we really need them to be at their best level.”