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Romelu Lukaku monsters Liverpool: The day he became a genuine Man Utd No9

COMMENT: Marcus Rashford has the headlines today. And why not? Two goals for the local lad. And against Liverpool. But this was Romelu Lukaku's game. His best in a Manchester United shirt. And the most significant of his career.

This was the £75m player Jose Mourinho was convinced he had. He didn't score on Saturday. But he walked away with two assists. Well, one-and-a-half. But most decisively, Lukaku left Old Trafford knowing he has now produced on the biggest stage. Against the biggest opponent. And under the greatest scrutiny. Yes, Rashford's name is on the scoresheet. But it was Lukaku who decided this game.

In the pre-match, Liverpool's defence should've been paying attention. Broadcasters previewed the match with a Lukaku interview. The centre-forward just about telegraphing what he was to do less than an hour later.

He declared: "I think it is something I have always said, that I'd like to give more assists and be more of a player who is evolving in the game. I think that was the next step.

"And at United, you have a bigger chance to give more assists. To be able to create more for my team means I can be more dangerous because then, sometimes people will get further away from me because I can score goals and then go myself."

And as if he was mapping out Rashford's second goal, he added: "Or if I'm in a tight situation, I know I can put the ball well enough into the box for other players to score."

He monstered 'em. Both Liverpool centre-backs. Lukaku absolutely hammered 'em. Dejan Lovren is getting it in the neck today, with Lukaku throwing him around like a rag doll in the lead up to both Rashford goals. But Virgil van Dijk also couldn't get near the big man - especially in the first-half. As decisive Lukaku was in making the most of David de Gea's two route one clearances, it could've been a lot worse as Van Dijk - in multiple clinches - allowed the Belgian to not just shield the ball, but actually turn and face Loris Karius' goal.

This was how Rashford put the game beyond Liverpool with his second. Lukaku's threaded pass for Juan Mata was cut off, only for Rashford to thrash home the loose ball. But Lukaku also twice played through Alexis Sanchez when allowed to turn - and had another chance teed up for Mata.

The centre-forward was even involved for the move of the game. United were in control. Liverpool were on their knees. And Lukaku was again in the build up which saw Alexis dink a super cross for a free Mata to bury his bicycle kick the wrong side of the post.

As a 45 minutes, Lukaku has never produced better. Certainly not against an opponent of Liverpool's class. And as Mourinho revealed in the post-match, that first-half was planned with the Belgian's input.

His critics will skip over it, but Mourinho deflected the praise coming his way to his players. The United manager, like Lukaku, had his best 45 minutes against a Jurgen Klopp team. The long ball tactics completely taking out Liverpool's high press - and with Lukaku dominant, Klopp and his players looked shell-shocked at halftime.

No-one would blame Mourinho for enjoying his moment. But just as he has with his backing of Rashford and Scott McTominay, Mourinho again proved his detractors wrong, instead highlighting the influence Lukaku had on Saturday's tactical masterclass.

"We gave options to the players," Mourinho revealed. "I am not the kind of mechanic coach that says A pass to B, B to C, C to D. We have different options.

"We have also the possibility of the long ball to McTominay and to play against (Andrew) Robertson in the air. Lukaku was confident from experience that he could be dominant towards Lovren."

It was a generous insight from Mourinho. Saturday's approach was no paint-by-numbers plan. Lukaku took responsibility. His input was valued. He could get at Lovren. Beat him. He was motivated. Involved. This was not the flat track bully - the great millionaire lump - that we've been sold. Instead, Mourinho's comments revealed a very cerebral and committed player. Which is what United fans saw Saturday.

Even in the final minutes, with his teammates on the rack, Lukaku still managed two major contributions - clearing the ball away from De Gea's six yard box, before getting possession on the halfway line, turning (again) and sprinting with it upfield.

From Lukaku's two assists, to his headed clearance and Mourinho's post-match insight, United fans witnessed the whole package on Saturday. This was the game Romelu Lukaku became a genuine Manchester United No9.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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