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In-depth Analysis: Why Lukaku makes Man United better than Ibrahimovic ever will

Alexiou Konstantinos provides a detailed comparison between Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and why the former is an upgrade for Manchester United

One of my favourite sports movies of all time is “Draft Day” starring the one and only Kevin Costner in the role of Sonny Weaver Jr. , a general manager at Cleveland Browns football club in US. Basically, the movie revolves around the critical choices and dilemmas Sonny has to face as a GM and talent recruiter, in order to build a competitive team for next season , combined with the subsequent stress and need for accurate decision making , squeezed in the 24 hours of the make-or-break event that is Draft day.

Ultimately , after a lot of studying with his staff reviewing and analyzing game tapes , Sonny decides to drop reigning Heisman trophy (best college football player) winner , Bo Callahan as Browns first pick , due to doubts about his character and his ability to play under pressure, and go with the less famous workmanlike linebacker Vontae Mack. A move that infuriated both the fans and the team owner, who wanted Sonny to ‘’make a splash’’ with a big name signing.

Even though the movie received its share of criticism for not delivering accurately the reality of how a team operates on Draft day , the underlying message is still relevant to what we will talk about today : a manager who , after thorough consideration and extensive analysis decides to pass on the ‘’obvious’’ (to everyone else except him) transfer signing of the star player and go with the less glamorous guy , JUST because he is a better fit in the squad and contributes to the way the team wants to play.

After the recent summer transfer window, I think it’s safe to say that Jose Mourinho is United‘s own Sonny Weaver jr. Why, you may ask me … Simply because Mou veered off from the “galacticos” transfer policy that the club adopted during the post – Ferguson era (simply signing big name players and hoping they eventually blend together and form a competitive team) and headed back to doing transfers “the United way”, bringing in not players that are exceptional but out of context, but players that actually gel together and make the team better as a whole.

Step one, the signing of Romelu Lukaku. Now, if we come to think of United’s attack as an unfinished puzzle, then the Belgian is definitely the piece that has been missing. But what makes Lukaku such a better asset for Manchester United than Zlatan? After all, we are talking about a world-class international player with a bag full of silverware and 17 goals in his tally throughout Premier league 2016/2017. So what is it that sets the one apart from the other? First of all, we need to understand that signing Zlatan was not a mistake at the time it took place, on the contrary , the reasoning behind it was sound but let me elaborate a little bit on that.

Season 2013/14, under David Moyes, was catastrophic and regressive in so many ways, but the most important thing was that the team lost its identity, its winning elements. Under Fergie, one of those elements was ability to have the majority of possession. Not thriving on possession, as teams like Barcelona and Man City nowadays do, but at least in most of the Premier league games- being able to keep possession effectively and thus control the tempo and the momentum of the game. Then Moyes comes in with an obsolete 4-4-2, and suddenly teams like West Ham, Swansea, Stoke etc., were coming to Old Trafford, employing an intensive ¾ (high) press and everything was falling apart. With a plan in keeping the ball under pressure practically nonexistent , players’ decisions were rushed , possession was given away in dangerous areas , build-up was suffering , the team was forced to express attacks more directly, in some games seemed like Ranieri’s Leicester City which was depressing.

To further illustrate Moyes’s catastrophic reign, we are going to use a model has developed to measure the quality of possession , called ‘’team possession score’’. In a nutshell, this model takes into account all the team’s actions done on possession of the ball and their outcome, and then gives you a number of how good that team is at it. Any score above 50 is considered a good performance. Let’s examine what happened in the post Ferguson era (average per game numbers):

Source: (Opta data)

To be completely honest, there’s no top 6 Premier league team in recent years that messed up possession as bad as Moyes’s United did. Also interesting was the shift from one extreme to the other, since Van Gaal’s next season team was to be all about possession , and for valid reasons as we see below :

• Over a decade of football research clearly shows that even though possession is not a direct indicator of success in a single game, all big teams that partake in the Champions league are enjoying on average most of the possession in their respective league games throughout a whole season (of course there will always be exceptions that verify the rule, like Atletico Madrid and Leicester). More possession (expressed in percentages and play time in seconds) was directly related to more points won in the domestic league AND success in Uefa Champions league play during the course of a season (1).Interestingly, keeping possession did not even reach statistical significance when the teams that participated in CHL were removed from the equation, so clearly possession is a determinant of success in the highest level and an idiom of all big teams.

• Specific to the Premier League, top 3 teams , when compared to teams near the relegation zone , had bigger mean length of a single possession phase(expressed in seconds) in their games irrespective of the score of the game (whether they were winning or losing) , showing that title contending teams in the Premier League tend to pursue a more patient build-up and progression of attack (3)

Taken from (3)

So after the chaos Moyes created corrective measures were taken, first of them being the appointment of Louis Van Gaal as manager, a disciplinarian who reintroduced in the team’s play concepts like ability to keep ball possession and in-game structure and tactical discipline. The fact that a lot of that possession was in harmless parts of the pitch and most of the times superfluous and mundane (look at backward passes stat in the possession score matrix above) has to be considered as part of the process of reestablishing a team’s identity and laying the structural foundations , after all Rome wasn’t (re)built in a day.

In addition, teambuilding strategy focused heavily on bringing in quality players to make United once again dominant in the center of the pitch and restore that patience and proper decision making in possession of the ball. Players like Mata, Herrera, Di Maria, Schneiderlin, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and eventually, Ibrahimovic. The thinking process was sound.

The question yet remains, HOW can a player scoring 17 goals in a season be holding Manchester United back??? To find out what wasn’t clicking for the Red Devils last year, first we need to understand some key concepts.

Sub-phases and principle continuum of the attacking phase in football

All right, when we are thinking about the attacking phase in a game, there are some distinct sub-phases happening in different areas of the pitch that we need to be aware of:


The build –up is the initial part of the attacking phase. As we can see in the pitch below , it takes place generally between the goalkeeper’s area to around the halfway line, then we have the progression sub-phase , until we reach places around the opponent’s area , then the creativity or endgame phase (where the magic happens) begins , with the ultimate purpose of scoring a goal. All the phases are interconnected in a sense of what a team does in one zone of the pitch has a direct effect on another one , so it’s best to view all this as a chain , as a continuum.

In the same context, we can also view attacking principles as a continuum, paralleled with our phases of attacking play :

Now I am assuming that since you are reading material published in this site, you already have a firm grasp on these concepts. For those of us who want to refresh their memories and revisit the subject , you can always go here , here , or here.

Starting the build-up, you obviously have to retain the ball possession to start anything, and then you have to start moving up the pitch. Players offering support in width and in depth can help you achieve that. Reaching that halfway line, that’s where things usually get tight. Now, to overcome a solid defensive block, you need to use mobility which in turn creates numerical superiority in the crucial areas around the opponent’s box, and then we have to trust that the player’s IQ, proper technique and swift decision making carries through the attacking pattern we have been working all week aka improvisation, so we can ultimately achieve penetration, put a player in suitable conditions in the box to take his shot and hopefully score a goal.

How did the attacking principle continuum look with Ibrahimovic as striker

Suddenly when we remove depth, mobility and penetration, it doesn’t look as sexy does it? Rather incomplete and anemic.

At this time occurs a need to understand why that is and in order to achieve that understanding we, as Sonny Weaver Jr. did in “Draft day”, have to analyze Ibrahimovic’s game from various angles , and those angles are the following :

First up, we examine what Ibrahimovic had to offer to United’s game.

• From a physical standpoint, Ibra was never the explosive “attack the space aggressively” player. That kind of acceleration and pace eluded him even in his younger years, so active runs behind the opposition’s line of restraint (a.k.a. the last line of defense, a.k.a. the back 3 , back 4 etc.)-And therefore penetration-are already out of the question. Let’s leave that to Rashford and Lingard.

• From an intellectual standpoint , Ibra has highly developed vision and sense of positioning in the pitch , he easily spots available vertical passing lanes plus he can understand and execute with flawless timing tactical concepts like moving and positioning between lines , so that makes him the perfect link-up player in a team (frame 1.1)


When teams like Everton in some game moments decide to move up the field and go to halfway-line press, Ibra spots the holes opening and with his supporting runs and the little triangles formed that lead to swift ball circulation helps the team maintain possession.

In addition, he is really big on combination 1-2 play and short shadow runs, which simply means “I, Ibra, spot the passing lane available and I move deceptively in order to drag my personal marker out of his place so space can be created and then I can play a pass in that space to an onrushing teammate, like I did for the always mobile Mkhitaryan in a Europa League knockout game pictured below “

“or in them good old league games with Herrera”

Still on Ibra’s mind , “ To elaborate on my excellence , If I get a pocket of space and I’m allowed to turn face up to the goal , my supreme vision and passing skills can put a teammate with pace in with a direct chance at goal as I did with Lingard below “


• From a football character and personality standpoint, simply put, Ibra LOVES BEING WITH THE BALL AT HIS FEET, so as a result every move he does is made in relation to the carrier of the ball. This innate “Zlatanism” and passion for the ball leads him in the strangest places an alleged striker can find himself in, offering support and creating numerical superiority , thus contributing in possession

And, when the forward pass he attempts is intercepted, he WILL TAKE THAT THROW-IN (see below). Please note: the match pictured is still in its first 20 minutes , United at the moment are trying just to keep the ball and circulate it without necessarily expressing an attack , after a 4-min heavy Everton spell, the score is 0-0 (there’s no reason not to let Blind take the throw-in and himself offering short or long options instead-after all he is strong and knows how to keep the ball under pressure- so United can keep possession , other than that he just wants to be involved with the ball whatever that means and of course irrespective of tactics)

But there is a flipside to that “Zlatanism”, that flair if you will. Like all technically exceptional and gifted players , he likes to create what I call out-of context for a striker ” sneaky” chances, which means , like Ibra himself would say “I personally prefer to make chances for myself that are not included in the attacking patterns that Mourinho taught us in training , simply by using my superior football intellect and my comprehension of concepts like moving sneakily behind the defensive line when it starts moving up the field , trying to stay compact. For example, remember the above throw-in that I took? Well, after I played a neat little 1-2 with Blind, I saw a needle pass to Herrera “

“The second opponents tried to move up to compress time and space around him, I timed my run at the box, behind enemy’s lines, who’s the legend?”

So, in his own unique way, Ibra did offer a bit of penetration besides the strong presence he provided when he was in the box, but it is the type of penetration that an attacking or box-to-box mid is expected to offer, and not a CF (if you watched United at all this season , Mata earns his paycheck doing that exact same run among other things).

Quick recap. So far we have seen how Ibrahimovic makes a big contribution in the possession process , constantly offering support and creating numerical superiority in all areas of the pitch above the halfway line so the ball can circulate in a fluid fashion , and when the ball reaches the attacking third he is always a threat. If allowed the time and space to turn face to the goal he can find passes and produce game-changing moments of brilliance (improvisation).Also , he fitted perfectly with Mourinho’s mentality of pursuing defensive possession , which essentially meant that the majority of United’s time with the ball was going to be cautious , keeping possession just to keep it and not necessarily expressing an attack , focusing on just circulating the ball in width and in depth , lots of attacking players coming deep for the ball , trying to control the tempo and eliminate opponent’s momentum and proceed with patience.

Now let’s see what Ibrahimovic TAKES AWAY , which in my opinion are the elemental things of an attacking phase.
Let’s look at a typical United attacking shape from last year. The team in blue is Manchester United, and the team in white is a team like Watford or Stoke, coming with a formation of 5-3-2/5-4-1 in Old Trafford. (Diagram 1.1 – 1.2).


The ball moves inwards from Blind at the left touchline to let’s say Carrick and then to Mkhitaryan or Pogba in a more central area. On both illustrations, Ibra is the one in the blue circle.


The first obvious problem that arises with Zlatan is lack of depth. By definition , depth requires from players to spread out vertically in the pitch as far as possible trying primarily to create as much space between the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines as they can. Ibra’s function as a link-up oversimplifies things for the opposite team, because they can stay compact (lines closer together) with ease, effectively shutting down any playability in these crucial areas. In addition, another advantage of depth which is being able to make decisive passing combos diagonally and forward in quick succession is negated here , simply because there is no player up field. The only viable option left is to move the ball laterally to Valencia or play it backwards. Alternatively, if Carrick is feeling frisky, he could try a through ball aiming at a Rashford run behind the defensive line.

How does this resonate within actual game moments?

The ball is with Carrick, and Ibra being Ibra, spots a vertical passing lane directly from the Englishman and several other options, as seen below. Even though he initially is where a striker should be (above picture), pushing that defensive line backwards, he decides to come deep to get involved.

In the picture below, we can see the repercussions of Ibra’s playing style: Notice as Everton’s defensive line moves up and manages to keep its compactness and shorten its distance from the midfield line, effectively shutting down playing between lines.

Second problem, lack of penetration. Keep in mind this is the ultimate goal in football, to penetrate the penalty box , get in an advantageous positions and try to score. It’s something that all successful teams throughout history have been emphasizing, certainly Fergie’s United did. The frames below show how penetration was mainly pursued in last season’s United league campaign:

• While the defensive line moves up as Ibra drops deep , someone spots the run of Lingard , Rashford or Martial and then has to pass the ball perfectly into space to create a chance ,

• Or some long shot long shots (no pun intended).

In addition, because Ibra’s always looking for linkups and opportunities for deft passing combinations, like below,

when the attack finally turns into something interesting , like in the following game moment with Fellaini’s neat pass finding Herrera in the edge of the box ready to cross, Ibrahimovic is too far away from the action (red dots signify starting positions and red lines the runs Ibra should be pursuing).

Another example is shown below , where Ibra ‘s fixation around the ball carrier disrupts the possession process , closing a vertical passing lane to Fellaini , and forcing Rojo to take the long ball approach to Lingard (it amounted to nothing).

Same picture below, only focus on the penetration missing (red dot is Ibra’s suggested starting positions and the lines are possible runs). Imagine how many more options exist within this scenario… That game moment would not have ended with a hopeless long ball to Lingard and loss of possession.

The team that has more tools and options in its arsenal in any given game moment and the right type of players at its disposal, will not lose a game 90% of the time, the details make all the difference in this game.

The third problem, lack of mobility, can be noticed in all of the above game moments, in conjunction with Ibra’s profile. Mobility simply means to not let the defenders rest , always make their life difficult , putting them in the place of physical and mental “taxation” , wrong decisions and positional errors. That includes checking to and away from the ball, making dummy runs to create space, being the third man in a combination etc. Ibra doesn’t meet the 2 prerequisites for mobility: the physical one (exceptional stamina-anaerobic and aerobic endurance, agile frame), but most importantly the tactical and the mental one(mobility requires from a player to be comfortable in moving away from the carrier of the ball and make moves to create space for others to exploit ). That simply is never going to happen with Ibra, who wants to be ball orientated and participating actively in a combo, never being a third man, but always the first or second one.

Author’s note : The fact that I have game moments from one single game vs. Everton shouldn’t distract you , in EVERY game the same problems had to be addressed over and over again , that is the vicious circle of Zlatanism.

So far, we have examined why Zlatan Ibrahimovic was ultimately a bad fit to the Manchester United squad and held the Red Devils back in various ways. Now, time to look at Romelu Lukaku and explain why the things he has done in these few games of the new season actually help in restoring “the United way” in attacking. And just to be sure we are on the same page , “attacking the United way” in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era implied a team that would have the majority of ball possession but possession with a purpose to an endgame , bringing the ball in dangerous areas successfully and frequently during a match and achieving penetration in a variety of ways , from the sides , from the center, from deep in the form of counterattacks , stealing the ball high up the field and hit the opposite team in transition , etc…

The signing of Lukaku reintroduced an era of balance in United’s attacking phase, in comparison to last season:

Nice to see the attacking principle continuum running properly again. Just one small absence… we can’t really say that with Lukaku we add to the element of improvisation , but on the plus side , depth , mobility and penetration are back with a bang, so now the attacking phase has a purpose and a focus on endgame. Time to pull up the player profile and start analyzing some footage to see why Lukaku makes United better than Ibrahimovic ever will.

• From a physical standpoint , we have a player that is tall and extremely strong and able to outmuscle opponents in the box , so could Ibra , only Lukaku is a level or two higher plus he has the crucial element of explosion , something that Ibra lacked throughout his playing career. In this match sequence against Leicester, after a poor head clearance from Maguire (a), Lukaku explosively pounces on the loose ball (b), outmuscles Fuchs and Ndidi in the process(c) and manages to turn and make a powerful shot under pressure (d), and if that goal by Mata on the rebound had counted Lukaku would have full credit for it, creating something out of nothing.





I remember an interview with United’ super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, saying “Defenders love it when they play against an attacker who plays with his back to goal and always passes the ball backwards. They hate it when you try to turn and attack them face to face because now they are on the back foot”. If we combine Lukaku’s strength-explosion with his aggression and tendency to turn face up to the opponent’s goal and attack defenders directly we get gunpowder. You can see that in the following sequence against his present club, where Lukaku manages to control a clearance from Everton’s area (a)shutting out Rojo by covering the ball with his huge frame (b), then manages to find some space to turn (c) and he is exploding into space charging down that right side(d-f).







Same thing from the opening game of the season, vs. West Ham at Old Trafford:





What a good judge of football ability can deduce from this footage is that right out of the blocks Lukaku is a player that provides the element that a quality striker should provide before and above everything else, and that is penetration, whether it’s receiving a cross or a through ball or making a solo run. It is the striker’s first priority to always seek that open space, the run behind the shoulder of the last defender, or even that decisive individual effort head-on if he identifies himself in a lot of space.

• From a football IQ standpoint (tactical), Lukaku’s actions on the pitch are as if they came out of a Uefa pro coaching course textbook. The Belgian international is a straight-up textbook striker , with all the typical simple but efficient moves:

1) Moving between the back 2 , to the central defender’s blind side ready to pounce on cross , like in Belgium’s recent 2-1 win over Greece in the World Cup qualifiers ,




2) Short explosive (3-20m or 1-3 sec. of maximal output) active runs inside the box to receive the ball in scoring positions , whether those come in the form of a simple double movement dismarking run (Lukaku moves to one direction to drag the opponent away and create space for himself , then changes direction quickly and attacks the space created to receive the pass), like in the frame below with Leicester ‘s Maguire ,

Or in the form of a decisive run behind the defensive line:

3) Outmuscling opponents in the area like a true target man , with the purpose of turning and shooting or providing a cutback to onrushing midfielders ,

4) Recognizing the time to drop a little deep and act as a second man in a 1-2 combination with a runner and play the return pass into open space, like with Mata below.






Keep those moves, especially 1-3, in your mind as we delve into some research papers:

• Michailidis et al. (4) analyzed all games of Uefa Champions league 2009-2010 , finding out that 73,75% of total goals scored were inside the box :

Taken from (4)

• Michailidis et al.(5) analyzed all 64 matches and 171 goals scored in the final phase of World Cup 2014 in Brazil and concluded that about 90% of goals scored were from inside the penalty box :

Taken from (5)

• Mitrotasios et al.(6) analyzed all 76 goals scored during the final phase of Euro 2012 in Poland-Ukraine , concluding that over 90% of goals were scored from inside the penalty area and 42% of them from the area between the penalty spot and the beginning of the goal zone :

Taken from (6)

• Wright et al. in 2011 (7) examined 169 goals scored during a single Premier League season, finding that a whopping 87% was scored inside the penalty box and 60% scored from “position of goal 2” (P.O.S. 2).Worth mentioning are the conversion rates highlighted below : when a shot was attempted from P.O.S. 2 the likelihood for goal was 1 to 7.6 , whereas taking a shot from inside the goal zone had a conversion rate of 1 to 2.4.

Taken from (7)

Now that you have the numbers and the advantageous goal scoring areas in schematics, you can revisit Ibrahimovic’s playing style and see how far away he was from those areas the vast majority of the time, while on the other hand penetrating those areas and positioning himself in timely fashion to score goals is all Lukaku does.
We have already witnessed that all of Lukaku’s moves are oriented to or originating around the penalty box, which brings me to the next positive element that he provides and that is depth. To help you understand how that looks like on the pitch , I want to compare the standard attacking shape of last season under Ibrahimovic , and this years’ with Lukaku :



Immediately we can see how Lukaku’s inclination to act as a stretch forward, pushing that defensive line backwards by advancing into the area, immediately provides depth and options arise : Now there is a small window of space for Mkhitaryan and the rest to work something between lines , as well as a passing lane directly to Lukaku in the area in the form of a long ball ,and in the case the ball is lost , United’s first line of defense (a.k.a. Lukaku) is already positioned in depth thus can move easier and quicker in a counterpressing position to block opponent’s buildup and regain the ball A.S.A.P.

For the last part of this article I want to cite the reasons I think Lukaku is bringing back that “United way” in attacking. So far, somebody reading this can easily say “Okay, he is strong and fast and good at moves strikers do, but so do a dozen top level strikers around the globe, what is it that sets him apart from the rest?”And my answer to you is going to be threefold:

1) Lukaku doesn’t suffer from what I like to call “skillful forward syndrome”. But what does that even mean? Simply think of forwards like Fernando Torres, Firmino, Arnautovic, Sturridge, Ibrahimovic, Rashford and Alexis Sanchez. They all suffer from “skillful forward syndrome”. The underlying causes for this syndrome are: Technical superiority, flamboyant football personality, lots and lots of flair, tendency to do the unexpected more frequently, resulting in: a big percentage of messed up decision making in front of goal. Lots of times , especially if they are having a day of bad emotional balance ,these types of players will put their head down losing peripheral vision and try to dribble through when a clever pass can lead to a clear chance instead , try to lob where they should be keeping it as low as they can aiming for that open bottom left corner, or will try to bend it softly with the outside of the boot where they should be trying to keep it as straight and powerful as they can.In a nutshell their football talent works against them , so they go for the complex instead of chasing the simple in front of goal. These types of players never reach big scoring numbers in their careers (I am talking about 25 goals and above in a year).

At the other end of the spectrum, we have players like van Nistelrooy, Lewandowski , Vardy , Harry Kane , Lukaku , Filippo Inzaghi , Drogba , Raul. Not as technically gifted and flamboyant as the skillful forward syndrome carriers , they stand out due to their consistency in their tactical approach to the game and their adherence to individual and group tactical textbook methods, they tend to exercise the same runs and chase the same positions every time with efficiency and realism and most importantly, in front of goal they are composed , clinical , cynical and pragmatic, simplifying the decision process and never letting their emotions get the best of them. These guys when kicking into gear are like machines and are capable of reaching goal scoring numbers that make an impact in the whole team.
So my first point about Lukaku’s superiority has to do with his composure, his simplification of the decision making process in front of goal and his consistency.

Think of United’s seasons from the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 until Fergie’s retirement in 2013. Did United intimidate any of the big teams during that time with the type of players they had in their squad? Certainly no. In the diagram below, we see that from all the Premier league champions in the last 20 years United’s and Fergie’s last teams were the most successful in converting chances into goals and THOSE TEAMS were the ones to win league titles and reach Champions League finals , despite the fact that after Cristiano Ronaldo’s era didn’t have superior squad quality , but ALWAYS HAD consistent performers , tactical soldiers , and composed goal scoring machines.

Source: (8)

So , having a team that can create big expected goals numbers in their games like Manchester City and Liverpool doesn’t really matter if the majority of those chances never find the net as we see in (2). Even though United produced more clear cut chances per game than Everton last year , Everton was actually scoring MORE goals, because a composed Lukaku upfront converted into goals and that is ultimately what makes you a successful team. Composure and goal scoring consistency was a missing element from United last year and Mourinho sought to rectify it with signing the Belgian. We can also see that teams with high conversion rates like champions Chelsea with Diego Costa and Hazard and Harry Kane’s Tottenham had better finishing league positions than Liverpool and Manchester City that produced a higher number of expected goals/game, which lends more support to the point I am trying to make.

Taken from (2)

2)Lukaku doesn’t seem to care much for the ball , as we see in his possession score comparison with Ibra below (total and average per game scores) :

Source: (Opta data)

While Ibrahimovic has a score above 2 per game and 58 in total(showing his high involvement in possession), Lukaku is in the minus showing he is more focused in his tasks as a striker and worries about putting the ball in the net. That shift in playing styles has a direct effect on what we are going to see on the pitch this year, with United’s attacking phase looking less superfluous and more adventurous- aggressive and goal oriented. Also that brings me to my third and final point:

3)Since Lukaku is not in love with the ball , he is comfortable making moves away from the ball carrier and unlike Ibra he doesn’t need to be the focal point of every attack , which makes all the difference in the world. Also , he has the physical condition and work capacity to support frequent dummy runs , shadow running into space , and in general constant attacking movement , therefore providing the mobility element missing during Zlatan’s reign , who basically was standing almost still when the ball wasn’t around him a large percentage of the time , allowing a capable defense to effectively take him out of the game.

Take for example the recent league game sequence vs Leicester in Old Trafford. Bailly passes the ball on the right to Valencia. As soon as Valencia makes that first touch and lifts his head up , Lukaku starts his run on the inside of Morgan :

Valencia chooses instead to pass the ball on Pogba coming in to offer support :

Soon as Pogba lifts his head , Lukaku is at it again , making that small 3-10m explosive run.

What I also want you to take away from this , is that a proper striker as in a proper fit in the system ,is capable of offering you depth penetration and mobility all at the same time. Lukaku’s above moves can be picked by an outstanding Pogba pass , although that is not likely , so as an alternative in the form of a shadow run creates depth and space between lines for players like Mkhitaryan and Mata while at the same time offering mobility , moving away from his teammate in possession and not disrupting the flow of the game like Ibra and making dummy runs constantly testing Morgan’s responses and alertness and putting him on the back foot.


Watching the recent United matches against Stoke and Basel , we can see how the addition of Lukaku upfront suddenly provides the team with more options and possible scenarios in the attacking phase. Also, when Ibrahimovic comes back to report for duty, I would like to see him playing in the areas Mikhitaryan and Mata are playing right now , as he is way more intelligent and effective in that job as we established here today(being a link-up and a false 10 in and around zone 14 , and filling the box when needed). The attacking shape doesn’t change as much and in defense the 4-4-1-1 , with Rashford and Mata or Mikhitaryan on the sides and Ibra just behind Lukaku stays as it is , so the overall structure is maintained.


(1)Collett C. (2012)”The possession game? A comparative analysis of ball retention and team success in European and international football from 2007 to 2010”, Journal of sports sciences.
(2)Goodman M. (2017)“Manchester United is too unlucky to be great” ,
(3)James N., Melalieu S.(2004)”Possession as a performance indicator in soccer», International journal of performance analysis in sport.
(4)Michailidis C. (2013)”Analysis of goals scored in the Uefa Champions league in the period 2009/2010”, Serbian journal of sports sciences.
(5)Michailidis G. (2014)”Analysis of goals scored in the 2014 World cup soccer tournament held in Brazil», International journal of sports studies.
(6)Mitrotasios M., Armatas V. (2014) “Analysis of goal scoring patterns in the 2012 European football championship”, The sport journal.
(7)Wright G. (2011)”Goal scoring opportunities in professional soccer”, International journal of performance analysis in sport.
(8)Yorke J. (2014)”Alex Ferguson’s last stand – Man United 2012-2013”, the big ripple BlogSpot.

Alexiou Konstantinos

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