Why Lukaku will be on a mission at Wembley
Romelu Lukaku has got a taste for the Emirates FA Cup but there will be one memory the Manchester United hitman will be desperate to wash from his palate.
The Belgian seems to savour the tournament. It is the one competition in his career where his starting appearances are outweighed by the goals he scores: in 11 career starts (plus three sub appearances) in the cup he has scored 12 goals.
His breakthrough header against Brighton & Hove Albion in the quarter-final at Old Trafford meant he has kept up an impressive run for United in the cup with a goal in every round so far.
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The 24-year-old opened his cup account for the Reds back in January in the third round at home to Derby County, sealing the 2-0 victory in the final minute after coming on as a sub. The Belgian did the same at Yeovil Town, bagging his customary goal in added time in the 4-0 fourth-round win.
Huddersfield in the fifth round last month was Lukaku's day. He scored twice at the John Smith’s Stadium in United’s 2-0 win, to line Jose Mourinho’s side up for Saturday’s Old Trafford evening clash with Brighton.
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The United manager had singled out Lukaku and Nemanja Matic during his impassioned Friday press conference speech for the media. He highlighted the fact that the two summer 2017 buys had been a consistent thread throughout United’s campaign from day one.
Lukaku paid the boss back when he opened the scoring against the Seagulls and there was a discreet fist pump celebration in Mourinho’s direction after his 37th-minute header had broken Brighton’s well organised resistance.
It took his tally to five for United in the FA Cup and helped steer the Reds to Wembley and a semi-final spot. And that’s where Lukaku will be looking for retribution.
Under the arch on 23 April two years ago was the isolated moment when the striker’s red-hot love affair with the trophy had a disagreement.
Ironically United fans will remember the occasion fondly - but not Romelu. Lukaku had virtually singled-handedly got his former club Everton to the last four shoot-out in London after demolishing his ex-Chelsea colleagues with two goals in a 2-0 Goodison Park win in the quarter-final.
Lukaku was on fire and had deliciously overturned his old club. But he ran into Louis van Gaal’s United at Wembley and one David De Gea. It was not a day to remember on the big stage as chances came and went and Romelu failed to breach United.
He saw Wayne Rooney clear one off the line from him but his worst memento came in the 57th minute when Tim Fosu-Mensah gave away a penalty on Ross Barkley and Lukaku stepped up.
The 12-yard contest with De Gea was won by the Spaniard as United’s goalkeeper saved brilliantly. It set up United for a memorable injury time when Anthony Martial struck the winner in a 2-1 triumph.
It left Lukaku pounding the Wembley turf in bitter frustration. But, despite that setback, he clearly still relishes the cup and his five-goal personal mission to guide United back to the semi final gives the Belgian an opportunity next month to banish that one haunting memory.
Romelu Lukaku looks like a man on a mission and United need him to rid himself of that personal Wembley demon. In the goal form he is in, it is doubtful lightning will strike twice.
The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.