It hasn’t been plain sailing for Jesse Lingard when rising through the ranks of the club he joined when he was seven-years-old. Having been on loan three times – to Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby – Lingard’s breakthrough only came in Louis van Gaal’s final season in charge.
Not all Manchester United fans warmed to Lingard straight away. Having come from the academy, there is always a great sense of pride from the travelling supporters that want to see their youth products prevail; but some of the more global audience that United have built over the past decade did not give their full backing to the Englishman.
When Lingard finally got a run of games and minutes in mid-January of 2015, he didn’t look back. From having featured in six matches in the Premier League before January, to finishing the season with 19 more, Lingard stamped down his authority in that United team that won the FA Cup. In fact, the youth graduate was the player to score the decisive goal to win the Red Devils their first FA Cup since 2004 – an achievement that rounded off the careers for the likes of Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney.
Under José Mourinho, who succeeded van Gaal in the United dugout, Lingard has become a pivotal figure in United’s team, taking responsibility when others have backed away and always providing the performances needed in the bigger matches. Wembley is associated with Lingard due to the fact he has had some of his best games for Manchester United at the daunting stadium, in front of a pack 90,000 crowd.
Lingard might not be the most orthodox attacker the world has ever seen, but that sense of unpredictability and expressiveness allows the England international to cause havoc on the pitch. Brought up on the right wing, Lingard has actually found better fortunes playing through the middle in a number 10 role.
Against Burnley, in United’s most recent Premier League fixture, Lingard managed to cause unease for Sean Dyche’s defenders by picking up a position in behind the midfield and just ahead of the two central defenders – a space in which he is afforded time on the ball and the ability to pick out his options.
In the opening 15 minutes at Turf Moor, Lingard had three opportunities to put the ball into the back of the net. Due to poor execution, he failed to do so, but the areas of the pitch he found himself in were the ones that cause mayhem for the opposition.
While only playing for 75 minutes, Lingard had the most amount of touches in United’s forward line with 58, while also having four shots throughout the match, only one behind centre forward Romelu Lukaku. The Englishman has a tendency to take on the chance and go for goal, but his finishing must be improved on in order to make the opportunities truly count.
One of the more pleasing aspects to Lingard’s game is his confidence. While he has tenacity and skill in abundance, he is a player that does not shrink in size when the challenge is big, nor does he when he goes on a barren spell in front of goal. Lingard could have stopped going for goal when things weren’t going his way against Burnley, but he kept his head high and took more attempts when the opportunities arose.
Throughout Lingard’s first three appearances this season, he has been averaging 2.7 shots per-game, ranking 18th from all of the players in the Premier League, no matter how many minutes they have played. Lingard has shown that he is a key orchestrator in United’s attack and will play a big part in this season under Mourinho.
Now, at 25-years-old, Lingard is entering his prime years at the club. He has been at Manchester United since the age of seven and is an emblem of the club’s youth policy for all to see. The Englishman is a wonderful example of where hard work, dedication and persistence can get you, as well as the obvious traits of innate talent and skill.
Recording 13 goals and seven assists in all competitions last season, Lingard will want to make sure he improves on the 20 goal contributions this year. Given the major part he is set to play under Mourinho yet again, as well as having come off the back of a fantastic World Cup with England, Lingard is not better placed to go on and make this season his own.
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