Manchester United produced a sort of dreamy performance at Cardiff that was inconceivable under Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese’s sacking last week almost liberated the players. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asserted before the game that his team will play fearless football and he was backed up by his players. And in the thick of things was Jesse Lingard. Beyond the statistics or any tactical analysis, the England attacker embodied the new attitude of the Manchester United players in Wales on Saturday night.
A complete attacking performance from Jesse Lingard
Lingard has scored some big goals for Manchester United over the last few years. However, there has always been a nagging inconsistency about his performances. But the attacker seems to be stepping up to the next level and without him, Manchester United always look a little more pedestrian in attack.
The England international’s movement and constant swapping of positions is an asset for any Manchester United manager. Lingard was in his element against Cardiff and was all over the pitch. His heat-map is a testament to his movement and his willingness to get on the ball. The forward was impossible to pick up for the Cardiff defenders as he constantly swivelled around the pitch.
He was constantly picking up those pockets of space between the defence and the attack. With Solskjaer allowing his forwards to interchange positions, Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were enjoying that license.
Lingard was especially getting on the ball more. He had more touches on the ball than either Rashford or Martial. He was often dropping into midfield positions to get on the ball and even try and dictate play. His movement allowed Martial to find the space to run into for the third goal. Lingard also provided the final ball for the Frenchman’s strike.
The high press and Jesse Lingard’s movement
One of the frustrating things about Mourinho’s Manchester United was that they were reluctant to press from the front. But Solskjaer is a big fan of it and his players gave very little time to Cardiff on the ball, especially the defenders. Lingard was again pivotal to Manchester United harrying the Cardiff defenders and midfielders in dangerous areas.
Rashford has always been a willing runner but Lingard can be a pest for oppositions when allowed to press up front. The 26-year-old was constantly at the heels of defenders and midfielders and provided very little moments of peace to them.
Solskjaer’s affinity to play a high line also allowed the gap to close between forwards and midfielders. It particularly helped Lingard who plays between the lines and he was always available for a pass. For the third goal, he provided Nemanja Matic with an option by again dropping between the lines. His willingness to run at defenders more or less compelled Sol Bamba to foul him inside the box. Lingard tucked in the spot-kick to bag the goal.
Lingard’s perfectly timed run also led to the fifth Manchester United goal when Paul Pogba’s perfectly weighted ball found the England international.
Jesse Lingard’s progress
It is easy to forget Lingard was in Louis van Gaal’s starting eleven in his first Premier League game as right wing-back. A serious knee injury in that game more or less ruled him out for the rest of the season. He went onto score the winner in the FA Cup final the next season.
Lingard made huge progress under Mourinho and became a key part of the starting 11. His goalscoring improved and his versatility was an asset for the former Manchester United manager. However, there was always a feeling the Englishman was being held back. His movement up front is an asset more attack-minded coaches would love to use more often. That is exactly what happened at Cardiff City on Saturday.
Lingard and the rest of the attackers were given the license to thrill and they flourished. He drifted around the pitch, created space for others and took up wonderful positions on the pitch. The brace he bagged was a cherry on the proverbial cake.
If the speculation is correct and Mauricio Pochettino has been lined up by Manchester United, he would love Lingard. The 26-year-old can be used in the way Dele Alli has been utilised at Tottenham. It is clear if, given the freedom to do his bit, Lingard can affect games. His penchant for scoring scorchers in big games is also something any manager would love to have in their squad.
It seems a cloud was lifted from Manchester United last week and Lingard and his fellow forwards revelled in their new-found freedom. He is unlikely to be dropped any time soon and the key for him is to become more consistent. He will have fans’ support and patience as he is an academy graduate. Lingard’s challenge will be to make himself indispensable from the starting eleven in the next few months.
Manchester United will spend big money on right-side forwards at some point in the near future. Lingard’s place will come under threat and it would be interesting to notice how he responds. He has bags of quality but now he needs to step up to the next level.
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