Football feeds off narratives. And one of the main reasons why we love football does not actually have anything to with the sport itself. It’s always the stories they build and give life to. The sport is better for them and naturally thrive on the tension that builds along.
One such story in the Premier League this season – setting the tone since the transfer window, a tale that connects two football clubs and managers at loggerheads, one that took a very interesting turn last week – involves two centre-forwards with different backgrounds and qualities: Alvaro Morata of Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United.
Things between the two clubs and the two strikers could have been very different. It could have been Lukaku at the end of the header on Sunday scoring the winner for the Blues of London; a club he had previously played for and supported as a kid growing up.
Up north, it may have been Alvaro Morata donning the red strip with hair dyed burgundy, finding himself at ease with the large Spanish-speaking contingent at Manchester United playing under a manager who oversaw his breakthrough at Real Madrid.
But on Sunday, it was Morata – who is seemingly unhappy and unsettled at London that secured a massive, potentially season-changing win at Stamford Bridge where they have lost twice this season already – against a side with ambition and potential to win the league going by the early season form. Romelu Lukaku, after a start that has positively impacted and improved United on so many levels – suffered another game with a distinct lack of service – ending up with zero touches inside the box, an area where he is usually at his very best.
Both Morata and Lukaku have enjoyed solid starts to the campaign – against the pressures of expectations from the outside – be it the media, the fans and the clubs themselves.
The Spaniard faced the prospect of replacing the outgoing Diego Costa – who, for all his eccentricities was a terrifying goal-scorer that played a significant role in two spectacular title-winning campaigns in the last three years. The 25-year old, having had reasonably successful stints at Real Madrid and Juventus – reaching a Champions League final with the latter in particular, is now approaching his peak years with Chelsea football club where his potential will be tested against tempos and physicality he’s never probably never experienced in the past.
Romelu Lukaku, on the other hand has arrived at a football club driven by an infectious ambition to win trophies in a country he’s done so well in, for the last three years – on a personal level.
He calls it his destiny to play under Jose Mourinho – the manager who actually allowed him to sign for Everton whilst he was Chelsea manager. Fate would have its way in the end as Lukaku now plays for Mourinho in the biggest of stages in England – leading a side that is and will be vying for the top honours in the coming years. His rampant start at Old Trafford – playing a part in 13 goals in 15 appearances – suggests he might well be key to United’s title challenge – their first credible one since 2013.
It is still early doors as they say and Morata has indeed drawn first blood with a vicious header. But the real football begins now as the final International break is upon us. On the other side awaits a crucial phase in the Premier League – uninterrupted till March – that is three solid months of build up ahead of the business end when the big prizes are decided.
With Man City riding the Guardiola wave and Spurs quietly getting into their stride, it’s this duel of fates between Morata and Lukaku that is going to shape how exciting this title race could get.