Just one day after a wasteful Manchester United exited the Europa League, their former striker Romelu Lukaku showed them exactly what they are missing.
The Belgian took his tally for the season to 33 goals in 50 games for Inter Milan as Antonio Conte’s side brushed aside Shakhtar Donetsk to set up a showdown with United’s conquerors, Sevilla.
It left former Old Trafford midfielder Paul Ince, a pundit for BT Sport on Monday, betting that United still wish they had the striker and many a Red Devils fan lamenting what might have been had he stuck around.
BBC Sport assesses another superb performance in what has been a stellar debut campaign for Lukaku at the Nerazzurri.
On the coat-tails of the original Ronaldo
|Romelu Lukaku’s stats in all competitions for Inter Milan and Manchester United|
|Manchester United||Inter Milan|
|Total goal involvements||54||39|
The £75m fee that took Lukaku to Manchester United from Everton made him the joint-fifth most expensive player in history.
A tally of 27 goals in his maiden season at United under Jose Mourinho made the investment seem worthwhile, before the wheels came off during the following campaign.
His second season, during which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Mourinho midway through, yielded 15 goals, periods out of the team and signs of dissatisfaction from the player.
Since his £74m move to Inter, though he has thrived.
In the lead up to Monday’s match, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport featured him on their front page three days running – a testament to a rejuvenated superstar who rewarded the coverage by becoming the first player to score in 10 straight Europa League games courtesy of his double against Shakhtar.
If he scores in the final he will equal a record held by a true great of the game – the 34-goal tally Brazilian striker Ronaldo managed in his debut season with the club in 1997-98.
Ronaldo would have been proud to have scored his two goals on Monday, both showcases of pace, power and calm finishing – qualities that United could dearly have done with as chance after chance went begging in their 2-1 loss to Sevilla on Sunday.
Don’t just take our word for it, though…
‘I bet Man Utd wish they had him now’
Former Manchester United and Inter Milan midfielder Paul Ince on BT Sport: “He looks fit, lean. At Manchester United he didn’t look like he could get around the park – here he’s just running past people. You wouldn’t see him do this at United. I was fitter when I was at Inter – whether it’s the climate, the food.
“He looks like a different animal. We know he can finish but wow, I bet they wish they had him now.
“Lukaku didn’t struggle; he scored goals for Manchester United. But I felt under Mourinho he wasn’t happy. Sometimes you find the right fit, the right country, the right club, the family is happy. If you’re happy you will perform.”
Ex-United midfielder Owen Hargreaves to BT Sport: “He played like the ideal centre-forward. He looks sharp.
“I don’t think we’ve ever questioned his finishing but at 27 he looks like he’s at the perfect age. It shows you have to find the right fit for you – for whatever reason it wasn’t there at Manchester United.
“I think he got a raw deal at United for whatever reason. I think he felt he had a point to prove all the time. He deserved a little bit better.
“He almost played like he was carrying a burden and now he looks like he’s in a place where he’s really confident.”
‘Solskjaer did a good job’
After Monday’s victory, Lukaku spoke of his own achievements and his former club with all the ease and grace of a man who is scoring for fun and has a final to look forward to on Friday.
“Everything is going well but we keep fighting,” he said. “Records are there to be broken but we want to win. We need to prepare ourselves really well, recover and play again.”
On Manchester United’s defeat to Sevilla, he added: “United tried their hardest. They had a good season and Ole did a good job.
“Mason Greenwood is coming through and Marcus Rashford. I am really happy for them. They look good for next season so I have no doubts.”
Should United have sold Lukaku? What you said and vote
Stu: Lukaku seems to have become a better player since he left Manchester United.
Paul: Lukaku, what a player. Manchester United made a mistake selling him. Don’t get me wrong, Rashford, Martial and Greenwood are great with a lot of potential too, but when things aren’t going well, they are all too similar. Lukaku at least gives you a plan B with his aerial threat.
Amrul: The problem with Lukaku was he looked disinterested at United. He would not pressure defences or get into the box with hunger and desire. Inter Milan are just happy with whatever Lukaku gives them.
Jack: Lukaku is clearly better than anyone in that current Manchester United front three – he was just unlucky with terrible tactics and management while he was there!
George: Walks into Manchester United’s team.