Last season, Manchester United fans near dreaded seeing Jesse Lingard’s name on the team-sheet, with many believing he did not possess the quality to be a starter for the Red Devils. Yet, this season, he has won over fans with important goals and spirited performances. Scoring at the Emirates, followed by a flamboyant celebration, put the icing on a very prosperous cake that is Lingard’s season so far.
The 25-year-old may not have the skill-set of that of an Anthony Martial or a Marcus Rashford, but he is vital for United under Mourinho, and a type of squad player that is hard to come by. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, not every player held the talents of a peak Wayne Rooney, or the superb Cristiano Ronaldo, but it was the squad players that really held the team together, aiding them to dominate in most competitions they found themselves in.
Lingard has been finding himself in the first-team more often than not of late, due to his impressive turn in form, but even before this, players like him are vital. Mourinho seems to be getting the best out of the England international, and there are many reasons why United fans should give him more respect.
From the start of the season, United fans were crying out for Martial and Rashford to start together on either wing, with Romelu Lukaku operating as a lone striker. The announcement of Lingard on the team-sheet was met with a largely negative response, as many assumed that starting both Rashford and Martial would be too much to handle for most Premier League defences. However, when these fans got their wish against Newcastle last month, United found it hard to link defence with attack, and only went on to dominate the game after a tactical tweak from Mourinho.
In his post match conference, the Portuguese boss discussed this problem, and explained that his side struggle to operate with Martial and Rashford playing at the same time, as the forwards are ‘too similar.’ When Lingard has started for United, as he is a more defensive minded player than the two previously mentioned, he acts as a better link between attack and defence. When Mourinho first joined United, many expected him to favour Lingard due to his higher defensive work-rate, yet it is his contribution going forward which helps the team transition much more fluently.
Another reason why the fans should pay more respect to Lingard is how he has stepped up following the drop in form of Juan Mata, and the dramatic disappearance of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. With one of Martial or Rashford always starting on the left, and Mourinho refusing to play them together, it was left to Lingard to make the right-wing/central attacking-midfield role his own. His performances have had flaws, for sure, but without him the transitions from defence to attack would have been slowed by Mata’s sideways passing, or Mkhitaryan’s persistence to try and put the ball through the legs of his marker, rather than distribute possession.
His goal against Arsenal has become somewhat iconic across the United fanbase due to his ‘Milly Rock’ celebration, yet there are areas of general play that Lingard does not get enough credit for. He made a decent defensive contribution in the Manchester Derby with his persistent pressing, and has provided energy towards the end of games, which have led to United rolling teams over past the 75th minute mark.
The past few seasons have seen consistently average performances from the Warrington-born midfielder, yet he has seen new light under Mourinho, and really made a name for himself this season. At the age of 25, it almost seemed too little too late when his performances did not reach the desired level at the start of the season, yet this up-turn in form of late has proved he is an asset to the Red Devils, rather than a hindrance. Aside from his wonderful solo goal against Watford and his quirky celebrations this season, and his vital goals at Wembley over the years, Lingard is a real positive in Mourinho’s squad. Squad players like him are hard to come by, and though he will never reach the level of a top Manchester United player, he should still be thanked for his contributions over the past couple of months.