Premier League top scorer Romelu Lukaku is coming to the end of a fine campaign – netting 21 times all season, and nine times in his last seven games for the Toffees.
Given the Belgian’s youth (it’s easy to forget that he is just 23) and his eye for goal, it’s no surprise that his refusal to sign a new contract at Goodison Park has put Europe’s elite on red alert.
One of the teams reportedly hoping to claim him is Manchester United, who Lukaku and Everton will face at Old Trafford this evening. Can the forward impress Jose Mourinho, and outplay Red Devils star Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his quest for a big summer move?
Ibrahimovic signed for United last year with the aim of firing them into the top four – but despite his 15 league goals, the Red Devils sit in fifth – 16 points off the title, and five points behind Man City in fifth.
While the 35-year-old has led the line with distinction, our research shows that had United gone for Lukaku last summer instead, they’d currently be sat in third – seven points better off.
The Belgian’s four home goals over Bournemouth (compared to 0 for Zlatan), two home goals over Hull (0 for Zlatan) and one over West Brom (another Zlatan blank) would turn three United draws into wins – an extra six points for the Red Devils.
Add to that Lukaku’s two away goals at Watford (compared again to 0 for Zlatan) and that equates to an extra seven points, and a much better chance of Champions League football next year.
Lukaku’s advantage over his more experienced counterpart doesn’t just extend to this season – he’s already streets ahead of where Ibrahimovic was at this stage of his career.
The Belgian has been banging them in since he was 16 at Anderlecht – netting 39 goals before his move to Chelsea at the age of 18. By contrast, Zlatan had only netted one senior goal by the same age, having made just six appearances for Malmo.
While Lukaku had a quiet first season in England, he’s gone from strength to strength ever since, with over 20 goals in each of his last three seasons since his permanent move to Everton.
Ibrahimovic impressed in his three years at Ajax, scoring 48 times in Holland, before earning a move to Italian giants Juventus at the age of 23. What is the price of Lukaku also making a similar move this summer?
It’s not just against Zlatan that Lukaku shines – his goalscoring record stands up against some of the world’s best.
When looking at club goals scored before turning 23, Lukaku’s 119 was more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez – and more than double that of Thierry Henry.
Only Ronaldo, Raul, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero sit ahead of him on our list – players who have gone on to be considered some of the best of the generation.
Lukaku’s goals since this table was put together (it only takes into account goals before his 23rd birthday last May) prove he’s showing no signs of slowing down, and it won’t be long before his name is mentioned in the same revered tones as Messi and Aguero, who were just ahead of him on the list.
When looking at what each of the players he’s being compared with have gone on to achieve, it’s no surprise that Lukaku is such hot property.
Prospective buyers will be delighted to see Lukaku scores all kinds of goals – though his trusty left foot is his most regular method, with 32 of his 63 Everton strikes coming from his favoured foot.
He’s also weighed in with 18 on his supposedly weaker right foot, showing his two-footed ability, and his aerial prowess with 13 headers.
One area he may have to improve on is his work from outside the box – just three goals in four seasons for the Toffees have come from more than 18 yards.
He has the opportunity to do just that this evening, with the clash with United key for both Everton’s European ambitions, and for Lukaku’s own transfer hopes.
Having been let go by Mourinho when at Chelsea, he has the perfect chance to prove the Portuguese wrong, and put him firmly in the shop window for a likely move this summer.