Following up on Part One of my Five Manchester United Players to Watch at the World Cup, I have listed down the top three to complete list of Manchester United players – who have all begun the tournament on a highly positive note.
3. Jesse Lingard – England (Group G)
England started their highly anticipated World Cup campaign with a typically English result – 2-1 with the winning goal scored in the dying embers after utterly dominating the opposition from start to finish. For a brief moment, it looked like England were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again.
After an effervescent start to the opening 10 minutes when England created as many as 3 clear cut chances to open the scoring – thanks to the vibrant link-up play between Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling playing off the main man – Harry Kane, they finally found the net in the eleventh minute – through their captain Kane. From then on, it was theirs to lose.
It is almost cliched when it comes to England – but this time, the mood around the camp feels very different and Jesse Lingard has a big role to play in it. Gareth Southgate may have found not only his best eleven – but also how to get the best out of the eleven that started the game on Monday with Jesse Lingard playing on the right – with more freedom to drift inside. Lingard’s prolific domestic season scoring or assisting 20 goals for Manchester United in all competitions, saw him develop a lot of self-confidence which the player looks to have managed to carry over to his national side – something that, very few English players have accomplished in the last 50 years.
His career has so far experienced a late bloom that Sir Alex had famously foreseen, and it will be interesting to see how far he could help push England further in the most prestigious sporting competition in the world.
2. Paul Pogba – France (Group C)
Unlike Lingard, there is a level of almost insatiable expectation that comes with Paul Pogba – that cannot be helped despite the player’s consistently good showing at club and international level. Pogba also comes off a respectable campaign for Manchester United – but there are genuine and legitimate concerns that he does not win more games for Manchester United and France, given the scandalous amount of talent he possesses and the damage that could do to the opposition.
Above all it is Pogba’s decision making, be it in his own half or in the final third – that has often been the subject of scrutiny and will continue to be until he can channel his array of skills on the ball into something more productive that can help the team better – not too dissimilar to Kevin De Bruyne, for example.
But as Les Bleus got off to a win – an unconvincing result yet a positive one nonetheless to get their campaign up and running, Pogba will be closely looked at by football fans around the world – most especially Manchester United supporters, in hope that he would light up and take ownership of his team and the tournament itself, in a way he was expected to – in the European Championships in his own backyard, two years ago.
1. Romelu Lukaku – Belgium (Group G)
Nestled in Group G alongside England, Lukaku’s Belgium made an impressive start with the opening day rout of Panama. The 25-year old Manchester United forward after a quiet start – where he managed only 7 touches in the entire first 45, ended up scoring twice, extending his good scoring form, of late for his country too.
If Belgium are the hipster’s favourite to win the competition, then Romelu Lukaku is not far from being the outsider’s favourite to win the Golden Boot in a tournament that has one of the all-time greats Cristiano Ronaldo leading the goalscorer charts with a memorable opening day hat-trick.
One would only need to read about his childhood, in his own words, to understand why the Belgian needs no external motivation. For the towering forward, the pressure and purpose come from within and the start he has made is nothing short of a warning sign to the rest of the competition, that he means business.
It is safe to say, his laser-sharp focus in the box and the goals that will come from it will decide how far Belgium – managed by his former boss at Everton, is going to go in this tournament – and by the look of things now, they could go quite far indeed.