MANCHESTER, England, Oct 13 (Reuters) - When Manchester United paid 75 million pounds ($99.85 million)to sign Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Everton in July, few doubted the club were recruiting a player with the ability to score goals in the Premier League.
With 85 Premier League goals for West Bromwich Albion and Everton, including 25 in the previous season at Goodison Park, Lukaku’s record spoke for itself.
Already only the fourth player to score more than 80 goals in the Premier League before turning 24 — following Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney — Lukaku looked a good bet to continue to find the net at an impressive rate.
Yet there was one aspect of his scoring record that raised an element of doubt about whether the target man could lead United back to the pinnacle of English football - his record against the top clubs.
On Saturday, with United facing their biggest test of the season so far, at Anfield against Liverpool, Lukaku has the perfect chance to prove a point.
The doubters, however, have plenty of evidence to support their case.
Last season, 21 of his 25 goals for Everton came against teams in the bottom 13 places in the league.
That record is part of a trend across his time in England where in 57 games against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League, he has managed just 15 goals and finished on the winning side just nine times.
Statistics, however, can be misleading.
Lukaku was relying on his Everton team mates to create chances, something they have not always been able to do well against top clubs.
This season he has found the target seven times in seven Premier League games and he has scored in 12 of 13 matches for club and country.
It has been exactly the form that United manager Jose Mourinho would have hoped for and after last season, where United had a league-high 15 draws, Lukaku has helped deliver six early wins.
But those goals have come against mid-to-lower table teams and now the United faithful will be anxious to see if he can produce the goods against the elite.
“He’ll be defined by his performances in big matches,” says former United skipper and now Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.
“Lukaku has settled in brilliantly and done everything he was asked to do in terms of converting those home draws into wins. But games like this one are the real test.”
$1 = 0.7511 pounds Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis