Seeing Romelu Lukaku wheel away after scoring yet another important goal this season, this time an equaliser against Crystal Palace in the Premier League, it is striking to think that he was Jose Mourinho's second choice for this role.
Alvaro Morata was pursued for much of last summer, but once Real Madrid proved to be an obstinate opponent at the negotiating table Mourinho turned his eyes elsewhere. With nine games of the Premier League season to go, Lukaku could reflect that, so far, he has done a creditable job.
However, given the Belgian's approach to his game, it is unlikely Lukaku will be assessing himself just yet. The consistent theme of his career to date is one of constant improvement. When he arrived at Old Trafford, there were significant concerns about four specific aspects of his game -- his first touch, his effort off the ball, his creativity in the final third and his goalscoring record against teams at the top of the table. Though he has not rebutted all of these major criticisms, he has gone some way to addressing them.
First, a note on technique. While Lukaku may never have the ease of control of other strikers who were prolific in the penalty area -- like, say, Jimmy Greaves or Marcelo Salas -- he can argue his record to date is impressive enough. He can also argue that a failure to retain possession did not unduly hurt Radamel Falcao in one of his best seasons for Atletico Madrid.
This season, Lukaku has managed 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances, an overall tally of 23 in 41 games. Though that amount does not match the work of Tottenham's Harry Kane -- 24 in 28 league games, 35 in 37 overall -- or Liverpool's Mohamed Salah -- 24 in 28 league games, 32 in 38 overall -- it is still a respectable tally.
Lukaku can argue, moreover, that unlike Kane and Salah he is in a team that sometimes seems to be playing to the precise opposite of his strengths. Consider that Lukaku thrives on crosses, yet United do not have an orthodox winger who can be counted upon for regular and excellent delivery. They do not have a forward or full-back who hits the byline time and again, whose instinct is to find Lukaku. This means that a key part of the striker's game is not being catered to. In that context, his scoring this season looks much better.
More use must also be made of Lukaku's runs into space. It was notable how ruthless he was in the FA Cup win at Huddersfield, a potentially difficult tie, when he received the type of service on which he thrives -- the ball into feet at the start or end of a counterattack. In that game he finished superbly with either foot, and began and ended the break for the decisive second goal.
It is worth noting, of course, that Lukaku cannot regularly expect that kind of room -- after all, a large number of teams who play against United will seek to sit deep. Yet as demonstrated by Lukaku's brief partnership with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the one area in which the Armenian truly thrived at Old Trafford, it is potentially a rich source of goals.
For a player so lauded for his physicality, Lukaku -- like Paul Pogba, for that matter -- does not use his body nearly so much as those attributes suggest. Pogba, despite his height, is not particularly imposing in the air, and Lukaku, despite his bulk, is not especially aggressive with his back to goal. In Lukaku's case, this is a little paradoxical since his approach play has been one of the best features of his game this season. Witness how well he combined with Jesse Lingard away at Arsenal in United's 3-1 victory, or how he supplied Lingard with a superb cross for his winning goal against Chelsea at Old Trafford. The irony is that, if Lukaku received the service that he himself supplies for others, then he would truly be thriving.
There have been some respects in which Lukaku could and should have done better. Sceptics will rightly point to his crucial miss against Manchester City in the derby earlier this season, a mistake which cost his team a point. They will also note his failure to convert a volley from close range against Sevilla.
Yet they may also be warming to him a little, given his essential contribution against Chelsea, providing a goal and an assist. They should also look at the performance of Morata this season, who has scored 10 goals in 23 Premier League matches and 12 in 36 overall, as a sign of how difficult it can be to carry the mantle of a major team's attack in your first term.
Morata, of course, remains a player of extraordinary talent, and would still have been a very fine acquisition for United. At the same time, given how Lukaku continues to develop his game, his club's supporters can be very happy with their new recruit.