Manchester City are an unstoppable machine at the minute, and finding a weakness in Pep Guardiola’s side feels pretty picky, as they romp towards the Premier League crown off the back of 20 consecutive victories.
But there is a position which, even if it is not necessarily weak, certainly needs to be strengthened. That is the focal point of the Citizens’ attack: the striker.
Sergio Aguero has held down the fort for a decade now, but it’s clear we’re reaching the end days of his illustrious career. The Argentine can’t stay fit nor string together a run of games in the team, and although he has always missed periods of campaigns with the odd knock, this season feels like the closing of a chapter.
Behind Aguero sits Gabriel Jesus, a striker for whom many have waited patiently – and then a little more impatiently – hoping for him to flourish and knock Aguero off his perch. But the 23-year-old has never hit the heights expected of him, and he has dropped in stature so much so, that Guardiola often opts to play a midfielder in a false nine role, rather than throw Jesus into the deep end.
So, centre forward is an area for the recruitment team to mull over in the coming months.
Unsurprisingly, Man City have been linked with the biggest names in the sport, with Erling Haaland tipped for a potential move to the Etihad stadium. The Borussia Dortmund star is the hottest prospect in European football right now, and his goalscoring capacities know no limits.
But Guardiola won’t be the only man tracking the Norwegian striker’s progress. It is possible that Man City miss out on Haaland’s signature, as an almighty dogfight will break out when the summer transfer window opens.
So, the Premier League giants must keep their options open. And, according to the Mirror, one of those alternatives is Inter star Romelu Lukaku, who is supposedly on a shortlist of up to five otherwise unnamed stars. The Belgian forward appeared to have lost the love for the game during his time at Manchester United, but Antonio Conte has reignited the fire inside his goalscorer at San Siro.
The 27-year-old is enjoying another prolific season in Serie A, and while his doubters will forever linger, they are becoming fewer and further between. But is he the man to lead the line for Man City next season?
The first and major question is: Is he good enough?
The simple answer to that is yes – undoubtedly. Lukaku has equalled the record set by the great Ronaldo during his time at Inter, scoring 34 goals in his first season at the club – the most any debutant has managed.
His fortunes in front of goal have continued into this campaign too, where he has notched 18 goals in 23 league appearances, as well as finding the net in the Champions League and Coppa Italia. With 24 goals in all competitions by the end of February, it’s pretty clear that his 2019/20 heroics were no fluke – he is an elite striker.
It’s not just against the league’s plodders either. When the time comes and Inter need him most against the title contenders, he stands up and shoulders the responsibility, often coming up trumps.
We mustn’t forget either, that prior to his one ‘disappointing’ season at Old Trafford, Lukaku was as consistent and impressive as any other Premier League striker in history. He reached double figures in eight of his nine seasons in England, the only exception being his maiden year with Chelsea, where he made only eight appearances as a raw teenager.
Whether it was in a relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion side, a Europe-chasing Everton outfit or title hopefuls Man Utd, Lukaku constantly stepped up to his next task. So, joining the best team in England is not outside of his skillset. Not at all.
He’s the right fit for the Premier League, then, but is he the right fit for Man City?
Well, this is a little less clear cut. Lukaku has clearly worked on his game since leaving the Red Devils, and he has become a very different striker to the abject figure he cut towards the end of his time in Manchester.
He has slimmed down, focused on his ability with his back to goal and honed in on his close control and desire to bring others into play. What is certain, is that we are now seeing the best version of Lukaku that has ever existed.
The striker can do it all, whether it be running at (and past) his marker, holding up the ball to allow others to profit from his selflessness, patrolling the penalty box or drifting wide to create chances for his teammates.
The way he dribbles with the ball at his feet…well, there are shades of Adriano in that Inter jersey, especially in his ability to appear physically destructive yet nimble at the same time. He also scores all types of goals, from distance or tap-ins, headers or volleys, or mazy dribbles and clinical finishes on either foot.
He’s as complete as they come.
However, very few teams play football in the same manner to that which Man City treat their supporters, and it’s hard to say how well any player would adapt to Guardiola’s style. Lukaku is currently benefitting from playing as half of a front two, where partner Lautaro Martinez distracts markers and buzzes around, allowing his teammate to enjoy a little extra time on the ball.
Does he have the capacity to learn how to fit that system and become Guardiola’s warrior? Sure. Aguero did it, why can’t Lukaku?
Finally, we’ve got one last question to chew over. Does the narrative suggest this is a match made in heaven?
Oh, yeah. 100%.
Can you picture Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s face as he’s imagining ending Man Utd’s title drought, only to hear that the player he deemed not good enough is returning to the Premier League to score 100 goals in a season?
It’s written in the stars.