Jose Mourinho has bemoaned the absence of Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United’s starting XI following defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
The Belgian was only fit enough for a place on the bench having suffered ankle damage against Arsenal last month, with Marcus Rashford starting at No.9 instead.
And what followed was awful: without Lukaku, Mourinho’s side lacked any method of stretching Chelsea’s back four, the ball harmlessly being moved side to side as they limped to a 1-0 defeat.
Speaking after the game, Mourinho noted that the absence of his star striker was a massive blow.
“It was a bit hard for us to play without Lukaku against a team that defends with nine players,” he said. “You need that presence. Every defeat hurts but I go home with the feeling we gave everything. No regrets.”
“Chelsea are not stupid. They know our team without Lukaku or Fellaini does not have a presence so putting eight or nine players in front of the box they knew they would be dominant in that direct football. We tried everything by other ways but they had a huge block of compacted players.”
The 54-year-old, watching limp performances against Brighton and West Ham United and Watford, surely should have discerned that playing an attacking system which relies on Lukaku’s strength and hold up play without – wait for it – Lukaku wasn’t going to end well.
United were worse than a blunt instrument; there didn’t even seem to be a tangible plan without Lukaku to hit with direct passes. Rashford dropped deeper and became part of a useless attacking vanguard which essentially swapped passes with each other as Chelsea happily sat back.
Mourinho has built something interesting – something which has been fruitful more often than not – with Lukaku as the leader of attack this season, but when the Belgian isn’t available he has no plan B. That needs to change over the summer.