Liverpool v Manchester United: Is Lukaku a flat-track bully?

Romelu Lukaku has been accused of being a flat-track bully, but is it a fair criticism? We use Opta data to investigate.

Romelu Lukaku could make Manchester United history on Saturday if he scores against Liverpool at Anfield.

The Belgium international has netted seven times in his first seven Premier League appearances for the club, matching a record held by Andy Cole, but nobody in Red Devils' history has netted eight in his first eight.

Lukaku has scored 11 times in 10 games across all competitions, which has gone a long way towards justifying the £75million initial fee they paid to bring him from Everton, and achieving a record against United's fierce rivals would see his stock among the fans rise even higher.

The Liverpool clash represents another interesting test for Lukaku, though. The 24-year-old has often been accused of being a flat-track bully when it comes to Premier League goals, and United are yet to face any of their likely title rivals, meaning this game could be his ideal chance to silence some doubters.

But is the criticism unfair? Using Opta data, we assess Lukaku's record against England's so-called 'big six' and see how he measures up to some of the top flight's other leading players...

 

LUKAKU'S RECORD: BIG SIX VERSUS THE REST

It should not really come as a surprise to see Lukaku's record in front of goal against the big six is not as good as it is against the rest of the league – after all, we're talking about the best sides in the division.

Lukaku has, too, played the majority of his Premier League games for Everton, a team not expected to challenge the best in the same way Manchester United are. 

Still, the stats make for notable reading.

Lukaku has scored 15 goals in 57 games against United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham. By contrast, he has scored 77 in 136 appearances against the rest of the league. That gives him a minutes-per-goal ratio of 136 against the lesser teams, and a significantly less frequent 282.7 against the big six.

His shooting accuracy also seems to diminish against the best. He has scored 11.1 per cent of his 135 shots against the big six, but 17.7 per cent of 436 efforts against everyone else.

Of course, it could be argued he is less likely to score against the arguably better goalkeepers playing for elite sides, but the evidence suggests he does not always make much of an impact against the title challengers.

 

HOW DOES HE COMPARE TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S BEST?

Lukaku might not have the greatest personal tally against the big six but his stats stand up well when compared to the league's best marksmen.

In fact, there are only four players who have scored more against those teams since August 2012, at which point Lukaku had joined West Brom on a season-long loan deal.

The Belgian has scored 15 times in 54 appearances against the big six in that time, the same number as Chelsea star Eden Hazard and fewer only than Christian Benteke (18), Jamie Vardy (19) and Sergio Aguero (30). Wayne Rooney, who rejoined Everton once Lukaku had left, has scored 11 in that time.

His average strike rate (goals per game) of 0.28 is less impressive, though. It is lower than Harry Kane's (0.48) and Sadio Mane's (0.42), while it also fails to match up to players who no longer play in the Premier League, including Robin van Persie (0.48) and Steven Naismith (0.31). It is well short of Aguero's at 0.73.

Indeed, of the 17 leading scorers against the big six since August 2012, Lukaku's strike rate places him equal third-from-last, level with Rooney and Olivier Giroud and only above Gylfi Sigurdsson (0.26) and Jonathan Walters (0.21).

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