Ambitious title, isn’t it?
When Lukaku and Rashford started together for the first time at Manchester United, in a fairly historic event – the first Manchester derby held outside of UK and the first time the two sides faced each other after the horrific terrorist/suicide bomber attack in May, there was as much excitement among the United fans as there was respect from both sides, on the pitch and the terraces in Houston, who made it nothing less than a grand affair.
And the move played out as good as one could have imagined. Romelu Lukaku scored the opening goal in the 37th minute through a really well-taken finish, converting Paul Pogba’s hopeful ball over the Blues’ defence, from a tight angle – to break the deadlock. Within minutes, Rashford expertly slotted past City’s new £34.7m signing Ederson to make it two goals to the good on a day when the Red Devils rightly cashed in on their superior fitness and match preparation when compared to their neighbours and rivals who missed a few key squad members.
But that does not change the fact that Manchester United played some brilliant football in the final third – against a bunch of brilliant footballers. They started with Romelu Lukaku up front playing off Lingard, Rashford and Mkhitaryan with Paul Pogba providing the ammunition from deep.
Initially, it was Lukaku deployed up front, as the lone striker – very much in the mould of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, operating on the shoulder of the two center-halves, looking for service from central midfield.
His deceptive pace and brute strength gives him in a unique edge in one-on-one situations as he was almost sent through on goal by Jesse Lingard – minutes before he latched on to what was a half-chance.
United doubled their advantage, not long after, through Marcus Rashford, a goal that was borne out of Mkhitaryan’s pace and composure through the middle, releasing the 19-year old, who made it count, to score his third in two games, picking up where he left off towards the end of last season. Mkhitaryan too, has had a productive pre-season so far with 2 goals and 2 assists in his first three games on the tour.
Mourinho made four substitutions in the second half and made sure the duo stayed on the pitch for a few more minutes until the Rashford was taken off in the 62nd minute. The hour of football United were able to play when they were together up front with Mkhitaryan just off the pair of them, showed unmistakable signs of a potent partnership which could only get better with more time and experience.
Jose Mourinho, never an advocate of playing two up top throughout his managerial career, has experimented with fielding two instead of one to lead the line, on quite a few occasions at United – most notably in the 2-0 win against Chelsea at Old Trafford, when Lingard provided the perfect foil for Rashford’s early goal that set the tone on the day.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Mourinho discussed the possibility of playing the two forwards together. He said,
“Today [Rashford] was in a different team than Lukaku. But in this pre-season we will also try both in the same team which I think can also work. A good thing today for me is to see that he’s a team player. He’s not selfish. He’s not obsessed with goals. He wasn’t so worried about himself, he was worried about the improvement of the team”
Given the potential of both strikers and the bond they already seem to share on the pitch, it’s hard not to make the connection with United’s most memorable and lethal strike partnerships in Yorke and Cole – who, in the famous 1998/99 campaign, had amassed 53 goals between them.
Their current shirt numbers – a nod to the glorious past, may not be coincidence after all.