Manchester United’s 2-0 victory at home to Swansea City on Saturday saw the Reds put in an exciting, attacking display that the Old Trafford faithful had spent the past few weeks crying out for. Whilst the two goalscorers, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, got the plaudits for their role in the win, the standout performer against the Swans was undoubtedly academy graduate Jesse Lingard.
Besides having a hand in Lukaku’s opening goal and assisting Sanchez for United’s second, the 25-year-old wreaked havoc in the opponents’ final third of the pitch, with his clever movement off the ball and intelligent link-up play proving to be too much for Swansea to handle. With the ever-reliable Nemanja Matic and the dynamic Paul Pogba providing stability in the middle of the park, Lingard was given the freedom to run at the Swans’ back line and his interchanging of positions – particularly with Juan Mata – proved to be pivotal in picking up all three points.
Fresh from scoring his first international goal for England during their recent 1-0 win over the Netherlands, the academy graduate was playing with an air of supreme confidence. He has come on in leaps and bounds this campaign, establishing himself as one of manager Jose Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants, adding goals and assists to his overall game.
Sanchez’s arrival from Arsenal back in January had many critics suggesting that Lingard would be one of the players most negatively affected by the Chile international’s transfer, as he’d see his playing time take a hit. Instead, the 25-year-old has risen to the challenge and consolidated his place in the starting XI.
United’s fantastic first-half performance on Saturday was largely down to the buzzing Lingard, who constantly kept finding pockets of space in which to collect the ball, turn and hurt the Swansea defence. With just four minutes on the clock, the England international picked out Sanchez inside the Swans’ box, as the Chilean laid the ball off to Lukaku and the Belgian did the rest, firing in his 26th goal of his maiden United campaign. Minutes later, Lingard’s clever through ball played the Belgian forward in a one-on-one goal scoring position, only to be denied by Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
The midfielder spurned a couple of half-chances to get his name on the scoresheet before turning provider with a ball through the heart of the Swans defence into the path of Sanchez, who duly doubled the Reds’ lead. At this point, United were flying and turning on the style, with the 25-year-old causing Swansea all sorts of problem. After getting himself on the receiving end of a Lukaku backheel, Lingard ran at the opposition defence and just as it seemed that he was set to net his 14th goal of the season, sliced his shot wide of the post.
Whilst the second half saw United take their foot off the gas a little bit, the England international remained the hosts’ most dangerous player, constantly looking to up the tempo and make things happen. Since making his Reds debut as a wing-back during Louis van Gaal’s first match in charge back in August 2014, Lingard has grown into the United shirt and is finally fulfilling his promise.
There are signs of a growing understanding between him and Sanchez, a combination which could prove to be vital in ensuring the Chilean delivers at Old Trafford. In a campaign which has seen Mourinho’s men face a number of setbacks and disappointments, Lingard has been one of the few players to deliver on a consistent basis, along with the likes of David de Gea, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic. Such form should see the 25-year-old end the season on a high and possibly add a second FA Cup winner’s medal to his collection, before flying out to Russia with the rest of the England team for his first World Cup.
Having gone from being a promising talent to an established player in the United first-team, Lingard must ensure that this has not been a one-off campaign and has what to takes to continue to develop and improve. Should he do just that, then the academy graduate will continue to find his place in the starting XI, regardless of which big-money signings arrive at Old Trafford.