LONDON – Jose Mourinho backed Romelu Lukaku to shine against his former club as early Premier League pace-setters Manchester United host Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United’s league record had been perfect until they were held to a 2-2 draw at Stoke last Saturday, although the disappointment of conceding twice was mitigated by the impressive scoring form of Lukaku and Marcus Rashford.
Now 24 and with six years of Premier League experience behind him, Lukaku is now ready to succeed at the top level according to his manager, unlike in 2011 when he joined Chelsea from Anderlecht.
“I think Romelu has come here at the right moment,” Mourinho said. “He is a good age. He has a good number of years of experience with different clubs in the Premier League. He is clearly a player who has adapted to the Premier League.
“He has good friends already in the dressing room and has had an easy integration into our group. The way the team is trying to play has good relation to his qualities as a player. So I think he has come at the right moment of his career.”
Lukaku’s strong start to life at Old Trafford, he has six goals in six games for United, will help to offset the absence of France midfielder Paul Pogba, who may be out for several weeks.
Pogba’s hamstring injury, sustained in the early stages of Tuesday’s 3-0 Champions League victory over Basel, will certainly keep him out of Sunday’s match, and there is no guarantee that he will be available for France’s decisive World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and Belarus in October.
It is a significant setback for United, who started the weekend on top of the Premier League after collecting 10 points from their opening four matches.
Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are set to return in central defence, having missed the win over Basel through suspension, while Antonio Valencia should be restored at right-back, having made way on Tuesday as Ashley Young played for the first time since recovering from a summer operation on a hamstring problem.
Wayne Rooney’s return to Goodison Park from United – replacing Lukaku – has not gone as well as the Belgian’s move despite scoring in his first two league matches this season.
The Toffees have not won in five matches in all competitions before Sunday’s clash following Thursday’s 3-0 drubbing by Atalanta in the Europa League.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman revealed he would hold a meeting with his senior players to try to get their season back on track before the trip to Old Trafford.
Koeman planned to get Rooney, Leighton Baines and Ashley Williams, among others, together at their Finch Farm training base in the hope of getting a reaction against United.
“I will have a meeting with most of the players, with the key players,” Koeman said.
“It’s time for the experienced players to stand up. I am worried about what I saw against Atalanta. It was a wake-up call.
“I saw the team with a lot of doubts. One of our strengths of last season is we had a good defensive organisation and we have lost our strength.”
Koeman, who has no fresh injury concerns before the match, warned that Lukaku could tear his team apart if they do not improve dramatically at Old Trafford.
“We know him really well, but he’s one of the best strikers,” said the Dutchman.
“I said several times last season, he is a real finisher. I know how we have to defend against him.
“There are a lot of qualities. He is dangerous in the box and fast and strong. If we are defending how we defend in the last few games, it will be his afternoon.”