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Romelu Lukaku has backtracked after appearing to criticise his Manchester United team-mates, whom he accused of “hiding” after their 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
The Belgian clarified he was not being critical of other Red Devils stars with a post on Instagram:
He had spoken to BT Sport’s Des Kelly (h/t ESPN) after the final whistle, which saw United exit Europe’s premier competition in the round of 16:
“Something was wrong with some players, some players were hiding. I think we started the game well, but then we let them get a bit of control in the game. We had a few half-chances but we didn’t score.
“Then they scored the first goal and from that moment on we tried to chase the game. Then they scored the second one which was a big blow. At the end we kept pushing, but it was not enough.”
When Kelly asked him to elaborate on his comment that players were hiding, Lukaku added:
“I mean in the dressing room because some people were disappointed with the result because we expected better from ourselves.
“We know we have a lot of quality in the team but today we didn’t show it. It’s difficult for us but we have to bounce back. We have one trophy to go and chase and that’s the FA Cup.”
The 24-year-old scored United’s only goal in the tie, but not before Sevilla had effectively put it out of sight with two goals in quick succession from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder in the 74th and 78th minutes, which ensured the Red Devils needed to score three times to progress.
Football writer Liam Canning singled the striker out for praise:
Liam Canning @LiamPaulCanning
Romelu Lukaku is the only Manchester United player to hold his head up high. Completely isolated throughout the game but continued to work hard. Can’t get over the lack of intensity from the others.
Indeed, Lukaku showed a fight and desire that appeared to be somewhat lacking from his team-mates, so he may have been entitled to be critical in the aftermath.
United legend Rio Ferdinand was unhappy with manager Jose Mourinho’s approach to the contest, but he also acknowledged the players should bear some responsibility:
Rio Ferdinand @rioferdy5
@ManUtd forward line should be scary to play against….the team ain’t set up at times to get the best out of them. Lukaku often isolated, wide men defending deep, team sits deep….in glimpses they scare
While Sevilla are an experienced side, having won the UEFA Europa League in 2014, 2015 and 2016, they’re not among Europe’s elite and have shipped five goals in a match on five occasions this season, including to Real Betis, Eibar and Spartak Moscow.
ESPN’s Rob Dawson gave further evidence as to why a cautious approach was not warranted:
Rob Dawson @RobDawsonESPN
United had four shots on target in 180 minutes against a team who have conceded 42 league goals this season and 12 in six Champions League group games.
The Red Devils have improved significantly in the Premier League since last year—they’re five points clear in second having limped to sixth last season—but they are now left with only the FA Cup as their potential silverware for the campaign.
Even if they win the competition, it will only serve to paper over some worrying cracks, as the EFL Cup and Europa League triumphs did last year.
Lukaku’s development, particularly in his link-up play, is one positive United can take from the campaign, but they need to build on it by getting the best out of him in their biggest games.
The Belgian hasn’t always played as well as he did on Tuesday against the Red Devils’ most difficult opponents, but those matches have rarely been played on the front foot.
With a more positive approach, United may find Lukaku and their other attacking stars are better able to work together in harmony and shine in the most important matches.