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Romelu Lukaku should help Man United contend in the league again

Romelu Lukaku has talked of Manchester United wanting to be "the dominant force" again, and he will be a key factor in helping the club climb their way back to the top. It's a long climb, for United finished sixth in the Premier League last season, a massive 24 points behind champions Chelsea, the team Lukaku rejected in favour of a move to Old Trafford.

United will pay £75 million plus add-ons for him because they hope Lukaku will score with the consistency that Zlatan Ibrahimovic did last season. Marcus Rashford is a sublime talent and hugely popular among fans, but he didn't score in the league between September and April. Other forward players also failed to weigh in with sufficient goals.

Jose Mourinho needs goals from a team that found them hard to come by last season. United managed only 54 in 38 games; each of the five teams above them got at least 77. Even Everton, who finished one below, managed 62, 25 of which came from Lukaku, who finished runner-up to Harry Kane in the Golden Boot race.

In a United We Stand fanzine poll, 30 percent thought United will be champions, 27 percent think they'll finish second, and 29 percent predicted third. The rest plumped for fourth and fifth, so none of the respondents thought things wouldn't improve. That caution contrasts the mood last year ahead of Mourinho's first season, when the vast majority forecast a first- or second-place finish. People at the club were surprised by that confidence and, at the time, wondered whether to inject a note of reality.

Lukaku is expected to score from the start; ideally against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup and then the opening League game against West Ham, against whom he netted nine times in his four seasons at Everton. But he will also need help from a squad that has not been as threatening as it should have been, despite being stocked with creative talent.

Other players have been bought to score the goals that win the title in the past, most recently Robin van Persie in 2012. The Dutch striker did as expected, as United won the league back from neighbours City, but even he went nine league games without scoring at one point, though Wayne Rooney was there to step up to the plate then.

Over-reliance on one striker can cause issues. Ruud van Nistelrooy was a goal machine, but there were serious, senior voices in the dressing room who believed that his selfish streak held back United, as well as the progress of those around him, which included Rooney, Diego Forlan, Giuseppe Rossi, Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that they had a point, and that United's greatest sides have always had two, three or even four forwards weighing in with significant goals. The 1998-99 treble winners, for example, had Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Cole joined for a record British fee from Newcastle in 1995 with a reputation as a goal poacher, with an 81 percent strike rate. Such was the escalation in transfer fees that the £6 million United paid -- they also sent Keith Gillespie to Newcastle -- was almost twice what Roy Keane had cost only 18 months earlier. But Ferguson knew that he wanted to do the deal straightaway, which was no surprise: Cole was the most prolific goalscorer in England and had scored 41 goals the previous season. Upon arriving at United, though, the new signing was shocked by what happened after only a few days in training.

"[Assistant manager Brian Kidd] came up to me and welcomed me to his United," said Cole, now a United ambassador. "Then he said, 'If you think that 40 goals a season at this club is good enough, then you are wrong.' Then he walked off. I couldn't believe it, but I realised where he was coming from.

"Goals weren't enough at United. You had to become a team player, the complete footballer. That's what killed Ruud van Nistelrooy's United career. He scored -- that's all. That started to annoy the players. United need more than a goalscorer."

Cole adjusted his game accordingly. "Some of those players were far more gifted than me. I knew that I'd have to knock my pipe out all day long if I was going to win over the supporters. I can understand why so many expensive strikers failed at United because it's not easy being a striker at Old Trafford, it's daunting. Expectations are so high. You need confidence and peace of mind to come through."

Ibrahimovic was the finished article around which the team was organized, but at 24, Lukaku is the perfect age to develop into a group that includes Pogba (24), Rashford (19), Anthony Martial (21), Jesse Lingard (24), Eric Bailly (23), Luke Shaw (21) and Victor Lindelof (22). That's a core of players around the pitch with great potential, though some have realised it better than others to date.

All of a sudden, United look more youthful. Rooney, 31, and Ibrahimovic, 35, have departed, and only one player remains from the side that last won the Champions League in 2008: new club captain Michael Carrick, who turns 36 at the end of this month.

Like every English team, United are a long way from winning Europe's biggest competition at the moment, but with Lukaku's goals, the hope is that they can come much closer to winning the Premier League again.