The body language of the Manchester United players in Friday's training photos was positive, but Romelu Lukaku looked like someone had discovered his car was just holding a key.
Maybe he's just intense and focused, but Lukaku's body language currently seems to be that of a downed striker with no goal in 800 minutes. Lukaku has raced on all 10 Merseyside and Manchester derbies for which he was available at Everton and United, but has to start Sunday on the bench.
Lukaku exercised slightly in the middle of the week when recovering from a thigh injury. Its availability for the Derby on Sunday depends on the sessions on Friday and Saturday. "If the answer is positive, he's ready," Jose Mourinho said in Carrington this morning.
Mourinho beat Lukaku in Bournemouth, where he refused to accept that he had explicitly dropped the Belgian against Everton last week. Mourinho said it was a "quiet" and the likelihood that Lukaku would have returned to the top of the arrow at Vitality Stadium had he not adjusted his Achilles tendon the day before. Lukaku was even praised by his coach after a 25-minute cameo with Everton, despite losing a clear header.
Jose Mourinho Manchester derby press conference summary
There is no compelling argument to found Lukaku, and Mourinho has his omission from the XI. Practically confirmed with its recent rhetoric.
"I like to play with three attacking players where the winger is not clearly defined as a winger," Mourinho said in Bournemouth. "And I like that the winger is someone who has a striker or formation or a striker's appetite, and I have always had in my team that the winger scores many goals, sometimes even more than the striker."
United's offensive play in Bournemouth and Juventus was slimmer without the lumbering Lukaku. With three fleet-footed strikers, they passed the ball faster and were more unpredictable than Lukaku, who required a tighter attack structure to supply him. The strikers were exchanged and there was more variety without Lukaku as goal.
The fact that United's goals in Turin came from set pieces was not a true reflection of their investigation. Andrea Barzagli collapsed like Biscotti against Anthony Martial, Sanchez enjoyed the role, and Marcus Rashford's run brought the decisive free kick.
Lukaku used to be a smoother striker, but his physicality has become both a hindrance and a help. He rarely gets into the channels and has become dependent on power over tempo, a mind once reconciled with his manager, but things have changed. And so does Mourinho (for the time being).
You literally need to return to Watford, the scene of Lukaku's last club goal on September 15, for a United match he directly influenced, and Mourinho seemed happier with Lukaku's cracking challenge in the dying ember: "Something that for me the spirit represents the team [a] Lukaku glides back 50 meters to help the team. "
This selflessness is commendable, but the best strikers take Gordon Gekko's "Greed is Good" mantra. Lukaku has not breached the 30-goal limit in a single season, and his outstanding performance for United may be more memorable for Assist than for his goal against Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Lukaku has the creative ability to refine his game. Newcastle in February was a prime example of Belgium's inaugural openings for teammates, but he could not restore this flow and seemed disconnected from his team-mates. It was a bit of an inconvenience that Lukaku put his shoe brand on the morning after United's best European Cup night for nearly ten years.
Lukaku looked so deserted in the past few months that you could forgive Mourinho if he went to City to Marouane Fellaini or Marcus Rashford. It's not beyond the possibilities that a fitting Lukaku deserves a squad recall because a balanced bank is needed. United's outfield sextet in Turin consisted of Eric Bailly, Matteo Darmian, Fred, Juan Mata, Fellaini and Rashford. Lukaku deserves a mooring, but is not guaranteed.
Lukaku was somewhat optimistic about Mourinho last week. "It's not impossible, for example, to have Romelu Lukaku or Alexis in the same team," he explained. Lukaku has to wait fourteen days for the Crystal Palace.
It's not just the body language he needs to improve.