The Work In Front Of The Goal
Romelu Lukaku scored 12 Premier League goals this season, which was just under his underlying numbers. According to Understat, he was expected to score around 13 goals (13.11 to be precise) and being just under it is not too bad if that number is much higher. However, Romelu had only one season in his career when he did wildly better than xG expected him to do – and after that season he moved to Manchester United. Last season he scored 16 when his xG was 15.47 and in his first two seasons at Everton he was below expected goals for about a goal or two. Only in 2016-17 he scored 25 with 16.67 xG. It looks like he regressed to the mean.
On the other hand, his xG per 90 is not bad, sitting at 0.55. Anyone approaching the 0.60-o.65 level is doing well, but not much more than that. And being first striker at Man United should mean more. However, his 0.55 xG per 90 would be much more impressive if he was shooting more often. With 2.3 shots, he is far behind other forwards in top six teams, with Aguero at 4.3, Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah at 3.8 and so on. Jowever, not all of that is always down to him, but also his teammates helping out.
Another good thing here for Lukaku is that his average xG per shot is really good, at 0.24. That is on the verge of elite level and the Belgian should be able to do better across a season. If he is already getting into good chances, than underperforming his xG is a much bigger concern.
Lukaku is not a striker that does a lot of other work, like Karim Benzema was when playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, nor is he Olivier Giroud type of forward. That is why his 0.1 expected assists per 90 is not surprising. He was expected to make between two or three assists, but ended season without a single one. That is not something that should be held against him too much, but rather another proof that he should be better in pure goalscoring part of the game.
The only thing that he does at truly elite level, in terms of numbers, is mostly down to the way Man United played this season – and that is aerial wins. Lukaku is winning 3.9 aerial duels per 90 minutes on the pitch, which truly is a lot, but it does not offer much to his team. It is more of a stylistic stat, that shows Lukaku is great in the air and Man United very often play long balls towards him.
Keeping The Ball
And then there is another statistic that shows Lukaku’s weakness – keeping the ball. Lukaku has been very poor in that regard, making 4.1 turnovers per 90. From that, 2.2 possessions per 90 are lost due to his poor first touch and that is something that becomes more and more obvious. We often talked about Lukaku being moved further towards the right flank where he has more space to operate and quite a few times he did well. Maybe that will be something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will think about.