LONDON – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was glad to see Romelu Lukaku making the most of playing in his favoured central striker role with two goals in Manchester United’s 3-1 win at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Lukaku has been asked to fill in on the flanks in recent weeks, with caretaker United manager Solskjaer preferring to employ Marcus Rashford through the middle.
But with Rashford not fully fit and named amongst the substitutes at Selhurst Park, Lukaku was restored to his preferred position, and responded with a goal in each half to complete a win that maintained Solskjaer’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 11 games since he took charge in mid-December.
And the manager, himself a former United striker, was in no doubt that the positional switch had played a key role in Belgium international Lukaku scoring his first goals in 10 appearances.
“He was through the middle today, we created chances for him, he put them away well,” said Solskjaer.
“He’s done loads of running up and down the line – right wing, left wing – he’s had a different role because of Rashford’s form, of course.
“Today he got a chance upfront, two very good finishes – could have had another one as well earlier on, so very pleased for Rom, he is a quality finisher.”
Solskjaer added he had been impressed by the player’s attitude during a period when he has slipped down the pecking order at the club – a situation he also had to endure during his own playing days at Old Trafford.
“He’s a professional boy, a good boy. It’s great to have him in and around the place, always happy, always working on his finishing,” said Solskjaer.
“I think he’s played more than you think actually, but he’s played wide right, wide left.
“So, it’s Rash’s form that has moved him out there. Now with Rash’s injury, he grabbed the chance.”
Victory in south London kept United on the fringes of the top four, and Solskjaer said had been concerned about the prospect of facing Palace after a testing run of fixtures, including the Champions League first-leg clash with Paris Saint-Germain, the FA Cup win against Chelsea and the drawn Premier League clash with leaders Liverpool.
Asked to explain the secret behind his side’s run of eight successive away wins, Solskjaer – an increasingly strong favourite to succeed sacked former United manager Jose Mourinho on a permanent basis – replied: “I explain it by having good players and preparing well for the games, tactically.
“The team were so focused today, there was no complacency whatsoever. Which I said before the game today, this is the game I knew was going to be difficult.
“After PSG, Chelsea, Liverpool, all the mental energy that goes into those games, it was a game that we were expected to win, and the focus was fantastic. And there was some great finishing by Rom.”
Lukaku put United ahead in the 33rd minute, before adding a 52nd-minute second goal.
Joel Ward’s header gave Palace hope of a comeback, but Ashley Young’s late goal settled the outcome.
“The second goal was a real cold shower because we started the second half well,” said Palace manager Roy Hodgson.
“It’s great credit to the players that they got back into the game. When we scored the 2-1 goal, it was a result of the pressure we exerted.”
The former England boss added: “We made a few changes to try and get something from the game and, as so often happens against teams of this quality, they find a way of picking you off with a third goal.
“We gave it our best shot.”AFP