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'Thunder & Lightning' - Can Mourinho Fit Lukaku & Rashford Up Front Together?

'Thunder & Lightning' - Can Mourinho Fit Lukaku & Rashford Up Front Together?
By Mikey Traynor

At £75m before bringing add-ons into the discussion, Romelu Lukaku will be expected to be the solution to the problem Jose Mourinho publicly moaned about towards the end of last season; Man Utd have some fantastic attacking players, but nobody who is ruthless in front of goal.

Having lamented the loss of Chicharito, Mourinho now has somebody he believes can be the goalscorer that can turn draws into wins, something that was a glaring issue at home last season. He will need to hit the back of the net with regularity in order to justify the fee, but with that comes the knowledge that he will have the chance to prove himself.

When you spend that much on a big name striker, he's going to play. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic waltzed through the door at Old Trafford last summer, the question was asked as to what his presence would mean for Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

In that instance, Martial was coming off a breakout season in his debut campaign, while Marcus Rashford exploded onto the scene from February, and there was genuine excitement to see if they could keep it up. Their youth in contrast to the advancing years of Zlatan eased the fears, as it was expected that they would learn from the veteran with a view to stepping up when he stepped down.

Now, injury to Ibrahimovic has accelerated the need for a new star striker, but the arrival of Lukaku means that Jose Mourinho does not see either Martial or Rashford as the line-leader. Not just yet.

Martial's inconsistency was puzzling for large parts of last season, but while Marcus Rashford took a while to get going, he finished the season in extremely encouraging form.

What both players have going for them is that they can play on the left. While the two lads clearly prefer playing through the middle, and have been more effective there, one position is occupied by Lukaku who at 24 looks like going nowhere in a hurry.

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So that's one striker position gone... In a side that played with one striker for the majority of last season.

If he stays fit for the whole campaign, he can expect to see the sort of responsibility that Ibrahimovic was handed in terms of minutes. So where does that leave Martial and Rashford?

Well, few United fans would have a problem with labelling the home victory over Chelsea as the side's best performance last season, as Jose caught Conte on the hop by playing Marcus Rashford up front with Jesse Lingard. Swap Lingard for the big money signing, and you've got a combination that can best be described as 'Thunder & Lightning' in Lukaku and Rashford. Explosive power, and blistering pace.

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It's a seriously exciting partnership. Quick, skilful, aggressive, it could cause all sorts of problems, but can Mourinho make it happen?

Considering what Mourinho deployed last season here are three situations in which the two could play together next season. The first is unlikely, but is certainly plausible, the second is possible, the third is probable, and the fourth is out of left field if Jose fancies a total shake-up.

These are essentially United's best XIs if we take it that Luke Shaw won't make the start of the season and Darmian plays left-back because Jose loves Darmian, and that Lindelof impresses over Smalling/Jones in the absence of Marcos Rojo.

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Traditional 4-4-2

The problem here is that, while Paul Pogba played out of his skin there in a friendly against England in a manner that made it look his best position, in the Premier League it remains to be seen if he can be trusted in that role without two defensive midfielders in N'Golo Kante playing alongside him.

That would be asking Ander Herrera to do his dirty work, and would require Martial and Mkhitaryan (or Lingard and Mata) to stay switched on defensively.

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Is it a goer? Certainly in games where the opposition is going to sit back and invite pressure, but that midfield could be over-run by a well-organised side.

Possible 4-1-2-1-2

Mourinho has used this formation before, most notably during his time at Porto and Inter Milan, but to do so at Manchester United he would really need his fullbacks to be able to offer support to the attack for the full 90 minutes.

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That wouldn't be an issue for Valencia, but it would require Luke Shaw to find his feet quickly upon his return. Carrick could play the deep role and allow Pogba freedom to join Mkhitaryan or Mata, but a signing like Nemanja Matic would be ideal.

This is something we may see Mourinho turn to if his tactical setup isn't working early on.

Expected 4-2-3-1/4-3-3

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The fact of the matter is that Marcus Rashford is more reliable than Anthony Martial, so if Jose is going with one striker you'd have to imagine he'd favour the Englishman from the wing, even though the fans will tell you that doesn't get the best out of him.

It looked as though Nemanja Matic was going to offer exactly what Mourinho wanted behind Ander Herrera and Pogba, but that talk has cooled for now so Michael Carrick has the job until a signing is made.

This is what you'd expect to see for the start of the season, maybe with Mata getting the nod over one of the wingers. If a new signing isn't made in midfield, Pogba could play deeper with Mata and Mkhitaryan interchanging between #10 and the right flank.

Unlikely 3-5-2

Two strikers, Ander Herrera and the other midfielder can sink in and make that a back five, Pogba is free to run around and do all his fancy stuff, Valencia offers balance and Martial, or Lingard if we're talking about someone more suited to wing-back, offers width in attack.

Almost certainly won't happen because seeing three at the back would possibly trigger Man Utd fans' PTSD from the Van Gaal days of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair.

It's an interesting conundrum, as while the supporters of Manchester United are warm to the idea of Romelu Lukaku being the main man up top, they will certainly want time to be made for Marcus Rashford, and while ruling out a player of Anthony Martial's talent would be ill-advised, it's the local lad who is a higher priority for the fans.

The pre-season tour of the US may give us an idea as to how Mourinho wants his team to take shape, can he find a way to deploy what would surely be one of the most dynamic striker partnerships in the Premier League?

Time will tell.

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