Memphis Depay says Manchester United exit improved him

Lyon winger Memphis Depay believes he "became a much better player" after leaving Manchester United.

Depay, brought to Old Trafford by Louis van Gaal in 2015 from boyhood club PSV in a £27.9m deal, had a frustrating 19 months at United - registering seven goals and six assists in 53 appearances.

Jose Mourinho's arrival ensured less minutes for Depay with the 24-year-old appearing just four times in the Premier League before making a January switch to Ligue 1 side Lyon for £21.7m.

Since moving to Lyon, who face Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday, Depay has been a first-team regular - scoring 28 times in 74 appearances.

"Everybody knows the story of me and Manchester United was not successful and I'm just happy that I'm the player I am today," said the Netherlands international, ahead of Wednesday's trip to the Eithad.

"I can look back and say I didn't want it to go like that - nobody wanted that - things happened and I became a much better player. I can feel it in the games, I mean everybody can see it I think as well.

"After one season, I couldn't find myself in the team. I was still young, didn't get a lot of opportunities, but I must say that the first season I didn't put the quality on the table that I thought."

"I believe for sure that the city is still Red and tomorrow I'll be trying to get a good result against the Blues."

United's all-time leading scorer Wayne Rooney, speaking last week, revealed Depay went against his words of advice while in Manchester - turning up to a reserve game in his Rolls Royce, wearing a cowboy hat and red leather jacket following a poor performance against Stoke.

Depay, though, took the comments in his stride and revealed he was confused by one aspect of Rooney's account.

"Some people can't take a joke and me and Wayne are very good friends," he said. "I understand what he meant with it and that's it.

"When I heard about it, I was just questioning it like, 'I don't have a red leather jacket', of all my thousands of jackets I don't have a red leather jacket.

"It's in the past and I'm a flamboyant guy and like nice stuff but that doesn't mean I couldn't be more smart. I've become more mature.

"You go through experiences in life on and off the pitch. When I came back today [to Manchester] I felt like a different person.

Former United star Rio Ferdinand is not so sure that the criticism levelled at Lukaku is proportionate though.

“He’s a player who’s always going to get many chances in this team. What I would say is the kid just knows how to score goals, he’s a goalscorer and you can’t argue with that,” the BT Sport pundit told Goal.

“There’s other parts of his game that I saw glimpses of in the World Cup for Belgium where it looked like he’s adding to his game, and we want to see that in a Man Utd shirt as well.

“But as an out-and-out goalscorer, his record stands up against anyone’s at the moment. He’s scoring goals, it doesn’t matter who he scores against really, does it? He’s still scoring goals.

“Are all the other strikers around the Premier League like Harry Kane and that scoring that many more goals against the bigger teams? I don’t know. So people keep hitting him with that one but I don’t see other people really being dominant against the top six.”

Since his arrival at United in the summer of 2017 for £75 million, Lukaku has netted 31 goals but only one has come against top-six opposition – against Chelsea at Old Trafford last term – while he has also netted against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup and scored United’s only goal in the Champions League knockout exit to Sevilla last season.

When compared with the top-six sides' other leading centre-forwards over the same period, the Belgian’s return doesn’t look dramatically different when tallying goals against fellow top-six outfits and in Champions League knockouts. Roberto Firmino’s eight goals prior to his winner against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday include strikes against Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal (twice) in the league as well as four in Liverpool’s run to last season’s European final.

And while Harry Kane’s five and Sergio Aguero’s four over the last 13 months outscore Lukaku’s mark, the 25-year-old is hardly lagging miles behind the rest when it comes to contributing when it counts. Clearly Lukaku is not the only centre-forward who finds it a tougher ask scoring against the best opposition sides thrown in front of him.

Still, Lukaku can undoubtedly improve in the 18-yard box just as he has shown tremendous progress in terms of his play outside of the area since his transfer from Everton. If he starts on Wednesday it will be the 50th time he has done so for United, but his one goal in 12 matches against top-six Premier League sides does not reflect so well against his figures of 30 in 37 starts against all other opponents.

While Young Boys could well be put to the slaughter by Lukaku to add to his four group-stage goals in 2017-18, the return of Champions League football serves as a reminder of the striker’s need to make the next step up in his career in the games when United need him most.

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