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Lukaku, Kane & Anfield: Why Liverpool trip can shatter Man Utd striker's reputation

COMMENT: Now we see the whites of their eyes. At Anfield. Against Liverpool. A wounded Liverpool. Now we see if this Manchester United team is worthy of the hype.

Sorry, Jose. Not this time. There's no way Jose Mourinho can claim his United go to Anfield the underdog. Top of the table. His No9 top of the scoring charts. Never has a Mourinho team gone to Liverpool in such good shape.

And who are they facing? A side shorn of their outstanding player, Sadio Mane. A midfielder, in Emre Can, trying to talk his way into a move to Turin. And to top it all off, claims from his old mentor at Mainz, Eckhard Krautzun, that Jurgen Klopp actually coveted the United job ahead of the Reds. And it's all occurred just this week. Some preparation. We've even had Kenny Dalglish effectively give Klopp a public vote of confidence going into the game. No matter the result Saturday night, no-one at FSG would dare go against King Kenny.

So it's all set up. United should walk away with it, right? After all, this is the best team United fans have seen since Fergie. Indeed, the best seen this century.

No, that's not us claiming it, but Paul Scholes. They do like talking themselves up at Old Trafford.

"I remember when there was me and Roy [Keane], [Juan Sebastian] Veron, Nicky Butt and Ryan [Giggs] who played in central midfield," Scholes said just a week ago.

“There was an abundance of good midfielders and I think now they've got the same kind of squad."

But how can anyone judge? Who have United played at Liverpool's level? At it currently stands, United have not faced any team in the top half of the table. So while on paper - and in the pressbox - United are being hyped up, Mourinho will know this is his team's first genuine test since defeat to Real Madrid in Skopje.

The Super Cup was a barometer of where United stood. And while in defeat the knives were quickly out from the watching media, United more than held their own against the European champions. But a combination of Isco, in flashes, and Real's winning know-how saw them finish the 90 minutes victors.

Which is essentially where United need to dispel doubts on Saturday. This is a game to make or shatter reputations. None more so than Romelu Lukaku, the Premier League's leading goalscorer.

There's no hiding at Anfield. Seven goals in seven Premier League games. 15 goals already this season. Lukaku is flying. A striker hasn't kicked off his United career like this since Andy Cole. Indeed, score at Anfield on Saturday and he breaks King Goal Cole's 22 year-old record. Grab a hat-trick and he matches Mick Quinn's effort of ten goals in eight games for Coventry City. Oh, that would slay Quinny...

But the crazy thing is, before even thinking about scoring on Saturday, Lukaku should be focusing on actually testing Simon Mignolet (or will that be Loris Karius, who knows?) in the Liverpool goal. In five of his last seven games against Liverpool, Lukaku has failed to hit the target. That's not the form of a world-beater. Not the form of a centre-forward leading the line of potential European champions.

Saturday presents Lukaku the opportunity to shatter that reputation of being a 'flat track bully'. And forge a new one. Not just in the minds of the fans and media, but also, perhaps, in that of the manager.

It's some coincidence. In the week of the biggest game of their season so far. With so much on the line. We get a huge story on Thursday of United, driven by Mourinho, making a £170m move for Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker.

But hang on. Kane? To United? Where would he fit? Why would Kane go to United with Big Rom already there? Unless it was to replace him...

Backed by quoted insiders, this was no flyer. The man behind the story, Neil Custis of The Sun, is close to United. This story was a message. Pure and simple. A piece of motivation for Lukaku.

48 hours out from their high noon showdown, Mourinho was making it clear to Lukaku. There's no hiding. That record haul looks great on paper. But you're not with Everton or West Brom now. This is the big stage - where it is demanded United No9s deliver.

Is he capable? Is this United team capable? No-one knows. Not from the season so far, anyway. Against a Liverpoolsans Mane, with a shaky keeper and leaky defence, United will never have a better chance.

And for Lukaku's sake, when they arrive, he better take them. Reputations are on the line this Saturday. Lukaku will be hoping to shatter his come high noon.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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