England came from a goal behind against Croatia to win 2-1 on Sunday evening, a reverse of this summer’s World Cup semi-final score line, after substitute Jesse Lingard made an impact from the bench.
Having scored a brilliant goal to put England ahead in a friendly against USA earlier in the week, Lingard played once again the perfect substitute’s role, making it two goals in two appearances.
Not only did he score the equaliser against Croatia, a rare simple tap-in, he was also required at the other end of the field moments later to clear the ball off the line to keep England in the game before Harry Kane’s late winner.
While Lingard’s form for his country sees him continue to impress, he’s been off the boil for Manchester United so far this season, registering no goals in the 12 appearances he’s made in all competitions.
Some may argue this is down to Lingard falling into the category of United players who tend to impress more for their country than their club. Paul Pogba played a key role during France’s World Cup success in the summer, while more recently Marcus Rashford looked like the most dangerous player on the pitch before being taken off with an injury, yet neither seem to shine in the same way consistently for United.
Lingard was one of England’s best performers in Russia and has come into his own on the international stage under manager Gareth Southgate. The pair worked together at U-21 level and Southgate has always been a big supporter of Lingard’s talents, picking him for his squads long before the masses rated him at all.
Back in 2015, during the U-21 European Championships, Southgate singled out Lingard, who had just enjoyed a stint on loan at Derby County.
“He’s an intelligent footballer,” the manager said. “He’s got very clean feet. He’s sharp coming in from the line, with good movement, and he’s also got a goal in him because he’s a calm finisher. He’s been a player at Manchester United since he was very young but physically he’s a late developer and they’ve had to wait for him, and us. He’s a very quiet unassuming kid and great to work with.”
Their relationship has continued to grow in the years since and Southgate has stuck with him, reaping the rewards for doing so. Lingard is all over the pitch when he plays, supporting the attack, popping up to score the odd goal or two himself, while also helping out in defence. This contribution was seen at its finest in the recent win over Croatia.
Yet while Lingard has benefited from the faith Southgate has put in him, it would be unfair to Jose Mourinho to argue that the Manchester United manager has afforded anything but the same support to the player.
The United youth team graduate has been a firm fixture in Mourinho’s team since he was appointed and is regularly trusted to start in the big games. He made 48 appearances in all competitions last season, the highest number of games in a season in his career to date. He scored twice against Arsenal and a late winner against Chelsea as part of the total 13 goals he contributed.
During the summer, with praise being thrown at him for his appearances for the national team, Lingard credited Mourinho with his improvement.
“Mourinho has been great with me,” he said. “He’s put that trust and faith in me to play me in big matches week-in, week-out. It’s only up to me to repay that faith by playing well and putting on good performances. He’s played a massive part in my development and I can only thank him for that.”
Yet this season, Lingard’s best performances have come in an England shirt rather than a United one, but that likely isn’t down to a difference in the managers.
Lingard has been carrying a niggling groin injury since the World Cup which saw him given limited playing time for United. When he did play, he looked off the pace and wasn’t making anything like the impact fans had seen from him in the previous campaign and in Russia.
After being substituted off with just an hour played in the League Cup game against Derby, Lingard was out for over a month, missing five matches.
Having not started a game for six weeks, he was thrown back into the thick of it for United’s biggest game of the season in Turin. Juventus had been unbeaten in all competitions until that point yet Mourinho believed Lingard could be the key to victory.
“He has been working with the team for a few weeks,” Mourinho said ahead of kick-off. “He’s played not very minutes but he’s coming step by step. The injury was not an easy one, it was one that needs a little bit of time, especially for the confidence levels. We think that this is a game where we need his creativity, we need a player like him that has one against one, hopefully he has the confidence to face a difficult opponent in a difficult stadium and he can bring us some creativity and some speed.”
It’s unlikely he will ever be the most talented player on the pitch.
But he is certainly one of the hardest workers, whose movement makes the job of the opposition defence all the more difficult. He creates space for his teammates, can go forward with pace and is always willing to close the ball down.
United supporters will be hoping that Lingard’s recent displays for England can be replicated at Old Trafford, starting with this weekend’s game against Crystal Palace.