In the record books, Lukaku’s name will be down as Manchester United's goalscorer and a footnote will nod to it coming on his full debut, but that will not tell the whole story. The Belgian can be happy with his strike but when he put his head on the pillow on Tuesday, he is more likely to think about the miss that preceded it 10 minutes earlier.
It was a gilt-edged opportunity, coming moments after Isco had doubled Madrid’s lead. Had he converted it, United’s rally in the final third of the match may have had more momentum. Instead, he had to wait to make amends, jumping on the rebound after Keylor Navas spilled Nemanja Matic's effort shortly after the hour mark.
A goal to remember then, but it on a difficult night. Lukaku appeared isolated much of the time, particularly in the first half and it seemed to affect him. There were a handful of easily avoidable mistakes, including one horrendously mistimed run in behind the Madrid defence that killed off a United attack after the Belgian being flagged offside.
But then again, only that goal will go down in the record books. Lukaku’s United career is not off to a perfect start, but it is off to a scoring one.
One of the few United players to emerge with credit, Matic’s display belied the fact that he had played just 45 minutes of football over the summer. Jose Mourinho claimed the midfielder was “available but not as available as the others” in his pre-match comments, yet he started him, trusting the Serbian ahead of Marouane Fellaini.
Matic may have lacked match fitness but he repaid his manager with another authoritative display, following on from his first United appearance in Dublin last week. The single black mark against him was a significant one: a slip in the build-up to Madrid’s second meant he lost track of scorer Isco. Still, Matic atoned by inadvertently assisting Lukaku after his own shot was parried by Navas.
His performance deserved it. Matic was not a transformative presence and could not do it all by himself, but he managed to stifle Madrid during some of their better moments, particularly during the first half.
As with all of these players, it remains too early to judge Victor Lindelof as he beds into life at Manchester United and the Swede deserves time to settle. Even so, it does not look like the summer signing from Benfica will make the same seamless start that Eric Bailly managed in the same position a year ago.
After several apprehensive showings in pre-season, Lindelof was just as unsure himself for the majority of the defeat in Skopje and questions will be asked over his part in Madrid’s second goal. Slow when needing to come out at meet Gareth Bale, he allowed the ball to be slipped in behind and was busy looking for the linesman’s flag while Isco applied the finish.
It must be remembered, however, that Madrid may well be the best team that this United defence has to play against all season. Lindelof was not the only one to struggle and improved gradually as the game wore on. Time is very much still on his side.
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