Last week picking Manchester United’s man of the match in their 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield became one of the most difficult decisions of 2017.
Thank goodness last night’s choice was a lot easier, with two stunning goals, albeit different, from Jesse Lingard, vital in United’s 2-0 win against Swansea.
Criticism of Lingard has become common among Red Devils fans in recent weeks, many claiming he is an excellent squad player but not able to prove himself consistently in the first eleven week in, week out.
It is a fact that 10 out of his last 11 goals for United have come in cup games, most of which against weaker opposition. However, the phrase in football you can only beat what’s in-front of you could not have been truer at the Liberty Stadium, Lingard delivering again when United needed a result most.
Jose Mourinho had rightly been furious from the weekend’s result and demanded that his side respond emphatically, bringing in youngsters such as Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe.
Both shined with commanding performances that befitted the values expected in a United side, yet the pair were outshone by the brilliance of Lingard, whose flicks and tricks deceived the Swansea defence over the 90 minutes.
Against Huddersfield, and indeed in the Champions League tie against Benfica, United had struggled to break the defence down, but with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in a front three with Lingard, fluidity returned to the Red Devils’ attack.
It was no surprise then that the first goal came from a move synonymous with the pass and move style of play suited to United’s trio at the top of the pitch.
Ander Herrera had been castigated for his performance at the John Smith’s Stadium but it was his cutting pass through midfield that provided Rashford the space to flick the ball into the oncoming Lingard who calmly placed it beyond the despairing Kristoffer Nordfeldt in the Swansea net.
There was no doubt the goal settled any United nerves and the away side took control of the game, the Swans only real chance coming from a misguided Daley Blind header, ricocheting off Oliver McBurnie just wide of the United goal.
It did not take long for the ball to make contact with the net on that side of the ground though, when Lingard doubled the away side’s lead on 58 minutes through a stunning header.
You would not have seen many better headers than that on a football pitch, Lingard running onto a Matteo Darmian cross from the right from just inside the Swansea penalty area, stretching to steer a powerful long-distance header into the top corner.
It was befitting of a player out to prove his critics wrong, against the backdrop of one of United’s most pressurised matches of the season so far.
Not only did the English international create two goals but 78 touches and a passing accuracy of 85% proved instrumental in working the ball through the channels, Lingard’s movement unpredictable.
He was a nightmare for Swansea’s defence all night, and if he can perform like that against the more prominent challengers then a first-team place is assured.