Manchester United have a lot of attacking talent in their squad, but the player to make the headlines in recent weeks hasn’t been one of the usual names. Jesse Lingard has emerged as a good supporting act in recent seasons. He produces important goals and provides healthy competition for the attacking places in the first-team. Few have seen him as a potential starter for United, but he has scored three goals and contributed one assist in his last two matches. Although it is too soon to get carried away, he has done enough to warrant further starts over the Christmas period.
His best position isn’t clear and his versatility has worked against him in the past. On Saturday, he played in the number ten role in a 3-5-2 formation. This gave him the freedom to move across the front-line and his intelligent movement caused the Arsenal defence no end of trouble. The winger’s first goal showed his willingness to make runs beyond the striker and his smart finishing was on display for all to see. Meanwhile, the second showed impressive anticipation and reading of the game. Paul Pogba made a determined run down the right wing and garnered the attention. This allowed Lingard to peel away to the back post and have the simple task of prodding home.
This role suited the attacking midfielder, as he didn’t need to get on the ball much and he could do what he does best. His movement and work rate are what makes him useful to Manchester United. At times, his decision making and contributions in possession aren’t great, but there is no doubting the goal threat that he poses in the final third. Jose Mourinho will want the England international to take up advanced positions and give him the license to run beyond the striker. He was awarded man-of-the-match against Arsenal and he will have taken a lot of confidence from the game. It is important to now build on that.
The 24-year-old may have played a supporting role so far, but he has a goal involvement every 65.5 minutes. Although the sample is small, this is very good and he is impressing every time he steps out on the pitch. It would be easy to focus on the goals, but Jose Mourinho will like his defensive work rate equally as much. The Portuguese manager is a stickler for discipline and Lingard has bought into that during the last 12 months. On Saturday, he completed three tackles and made three clearances.
At the beginning of the season, the early indications were that Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have a breakout year in England. However, he has gone off the boil and has struggled to impact matches since the end of August, with his last goal or assist in any competition coming back in September. The right-wing position is up for grabs and Lingard will be keen to make the position his. Mourinho may opt to keep him in a central role, but it would be a surprise if his long-term future is at number ten.
Another reason why Lingard is needed in the current Manchester United team is the poor form of Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian international didn’t attempt one shot against Arsenal and looked to be lacking in confidence. His movement wasn’t as crisp as it usually is and his touch was heavy. The homegrown attacking midfielder isn’t perfect, but he does carry a threat in the final third and is capable of scoring goals on a regular basis if he is given freedom to play in forward areas. It would be a mistake not to start him over the Christmas period.