The ideology of Manchester United is to play quick, aggressive, attacking football. In the preceding 15 months under Louis van Gaal, the Dutchman has challenged this philosophy – as he loves to call it – with a patient, circulatory playing style.
The strict ruling of keeping possession at all costs, typified when a United corner ended up with a back-pass to David de Gea against Sunderland last season, has at times cried out for a sprinkle of risk.
And amid all the big-money signings of the past two summers, it’s an Englishman, one of the 19 pre-LvG era players to still be contracted to the club, that’s rolling the dice on the pitch.
Having waited 15 months between his first and second Premier League starts for the Red Devils, academy product Jesse Lingard has played a pivotal role in the side’s last three victories against CSKA Moscow, West Bromwich Albion and Watford.
At right-wing against CSKA, Lingard supplied the cushioned, volleyed ball across goal for Rooney to head home the 78th minute winner.
On the left-flank against West Brom, the 22-year-old scored the first goal of the game – and his United career – in a 2-0 win, with a caressed half-volley from 20 yards out.
Then on Saturday against Watford, it was Lingard – playing in a front two alongside Memphis – whose shot was parried into the path of Bastian Schweinsteiger to score the stoppage-time winner.
It’s Lingard’s adolescent nature which is adding risk to United’s play. Despite not having started for over a year, Lingard has had 10 shots in his first three starts after his comeback. More than any other United player over the last three games.
Lingard’s instinct to be on the shoulder of his counterpart was highlighted during Saturday’s game. 36 of the 38 passes he received were forward, showing he’s ahead of the play trying to offer a penetrative, forward option to a side Paul Scholes described on BBC Radio Manchester of having “a lack of creativity and risk”.
He seems to have the work-rate and willingness to run similar to that of Danny Welbeck, and has shown glimpses of a sharper cutting-edge.
As United head into a bizarre top of the table clash against none other than Leicester City next Saturday, Lingard will be hoping to consolidate his run of form.
If Lingard keeps oiling United’s rigid style, and United go top with a win at the King Power Stadium, this could be the season LvG’s men hit the jackpot.
(Stats via Squawka and Stats Zone)
By Adam Powers – @_AdamPowers