Romelu Lukaku sizes up favoured prey West Ham

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Romelu Lukaku’s re­mark­able scor­ing record against West Ham United means he will ex­pect to hit the ground run­ning when he makes his Premier League de­but for Manch­ester United today.

The Belgium in­ter­na­tional, 24, scored nine goals in his first nine ap­pear­ances against West Ham for former team Ever­ton be­fore the east London club fi­nally kept him at bay in a 00 draw last April. Lukaku scored a con­so­la­tion goal as United lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the UEFA Su­per Cup in the Mace­do­nian cap­i­tal Skopje on Tues­day and his team-mates have been im­pressed by what they have seen in pre-sea­son.

“Lukaku has done a great job with the clubs that he has been at,” said United right-back An­to­nio Va­len­cia. “I am a kid next to Romelu. He truly is strong. I have seen him work on the field and in the gym.

“It’s truly in­cred­i­ble to see his strength, power and the in­tel­li­gence he pos­sesses. We hope it is a good year for him and the team.” Lukaku, a £75 mil­lion ($97.3 mil­lion, 82.4 mil­lion eu­ros) cap­ture from Ever­ton, could be one of three play­ers mak­ing league de­buts for United today along with Vic­tor Lin­de­lof and Ne­manja Matic.

United man­ager Jose Mour­inho used a con­ser­va­tive 5-3-1-1 sys­tem against Real Madrid, but is likely to be bolder against West Ham, who have not won at Old Traf­ford in 10 years. Mour­inho has no new in­jury con­cerns, with Mar­cos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ash­ley Young his only long-term ab­sen­tees. De­fend­ers Eric Bailly and Phil Jones re­turn to con­tention af­ter sit­ting out the Su­per Cup through sus­pen­sion.

Hav­ing led United to League Cup and Europa League glory last sea­son, Mour­inho’s chal­lenge for the new cam­paign is to turn them into ti­tle contenders.

‘CHICHAR­ITO’ RE­TURN

“The Premier League is what you all know,” Mour­inho said on Fri­day. “I’d say seven teams to fight for the ti­tle and 20 teams to fight for the vic­tory ev­ery week­end, ev­ery match.

“The club are also what you know. We are in­volved in four com­pe­ti­tions and step by step, match af­ter match, we are go­ing to fight.” United trailed home in sixth place last sea­son, 24 points be­low cham­pi­ons Chelsea, and have fin­ished in the top four just once since Alex Fer­gu­son re­tired as man­ager in 2013.

Javier Her­nan­dez was there as the rot set in un­der David Moyes and he will make his Old Traf­ford re­turn on Sun­day af­ter join­ing West Ham from Bayer Lev­erkusen in a £16 mil­lion deal. The 29-year-old Mex­i­can, known as ‘Chichar­ito’ (Lit­tle Pea), was a crowd favourite dur­ing his five years at United, scor­ing 59 goals for the club and play­ing a part in two league ti­tle suc­cesses.

He ad­mits it will be a strange ex­pe­ri­ence to line up at his old stomp­ing ground in the colours of a dif­fer­ent team, but says he will not al­low sen­ti­ment to cloud his fo­cus. “It’s my old club with my old fans and my old sta­dium, so prob­a­bly I can­not cel­e­brate,” he said.

“But as well it would be my first goal with my come­back with a club that has a lot of con­fi­dence in me.” West Ham man­ager Slaven Bilic has re­shaped his squad ex­ten­sively since last sea­son’s 11th-place fin­ish.

Former Manch­ester City pair Joe Hart and Pablo Za­baleta and star sign­ing Marko Ar­nau­tovic, a £20 mil­lion re­cruit from Stoke City, could all make their com­pet­i­tive de­buts on Sun­day. Left-back Aaron Cress­well and cap­tain Mark Noble are ex­pected to shake off in­juries, but Cheikhou Kouy­ate, Manuel Lanzini, Michail An­to­nio, Andy Car­roll and Di­afra Sakho are all side­lined. —AFP

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