Jesse Lingard continues to impress as Manchester United beat CSKA Moscow

Credit: @ManUtd
Credit: @ManUtd /

Jesse Lingard was Manchester United’s best player in the 1-0 win against CSKA Moscow that sent Louis van Gaal’s side top of Group B in the Champions League.

The 22-year-old was frustratingly wasteful for long spells but delivered a wonderful cross for Wayne Rooney’s winning goal 10 minutes before the final whistle.

In truth, Lingard could quite easily have been substituted at half-time. His pace and directness in the first half caused the Russians problems on their right flank, but his end product left a lot to be desired. However, he persevered in the second half, playing a smart through ball for Juan Mata moments before cushioning a side-footed cross into Rooney’s path for the match-winning goal.

In many ways, it was a game that summed up Lingard as a player: fast, tricky and exciting, but with question marks regarding his effectiveness in the final third. Whether or not he can develop a stronger goal contribution will determine his long-term future at United.

More from Red Devil Armada

In each of the two seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, at least one academy graduate has stepped up to become a first-team regular. During the 2013/14 campaign, that player was Adnan Januzaj. In 2014/15, it was Paddy McNair. At the start of this season, that player was expected to be Andreas Pereira, who may yet get his own chance to shine.

Lingard’s rise to prominence in the last month has therefore been a surprise. In the summer, it appeared that a loan move would be best for him at this stage of his career. At 22, a permanent move wouldn’t have been too surprising.

Sir Alex Ferguson, though, knew better. In an interview with Brighton and Hove Albion, one of Lingard’s loan clubs, the player explained how Ferguson predicted that he would be a late developer: “He sat down with me and my dad when he was manager and said that I’d probably be ready for the first team at 22.”

Now at that age, it remains to be seen whether Lingard can become a permanent fixture in the first-team squad, but his bright start this season and Ferguson’s prophecy bode well for the future.

Credit: @TransferCentreL
Credit: @TransferCentreL /

Van Gaal is another manager who clearly likes the young Englishman. Lingard started in the Dutchman’s first Premier League game against Swansea City last season but suffered a serious injury in that game and ended up playing the second half of the campaign at Derby County.

For his first appearance this season, Van Gaal turned to Lingard at half-time against Everton when United needed some speed and aggression on the right-hand side. His introduction stopped Everton getting back into the match, and he made a timely block in the penalty area when the home side were on top.

A week later, he went closest to scoring in an uneventful Manchester derby when his flicked volley hit the crossbar late in the game. The one black mark against his name was for his shocking challenge on Grant Leadbitter in a Capital One Cup defeat to Middlesbrough, which should have seen him red-carded.

On the whole, it’s been a positive start for Lingard, who has played six times in three weeks and looked better each times he’s played, showcasing his willingness to take risks and run with the ball.

What’s equally impressive is his ability to play on the left or right – and while he might not be a traditional winger, hugging the touchline and whipping in cross after cross, he’s one of the few players at Van Gaal’s disposal who can play out wide.

Ultimately, Lingard’s blend of tenacity in defence and quickness in attack means that he offers a unique skill set in this United squad.

More from Manchester United News

The big question mark that hangs over Lingard as a player is whether he has the finesse and skill to create enough chances and score enough goals – or, rather, whether he will develop that ability.

With most teams now using just one striker, attacking midfielders face added pressure to register goals and assists. Mata, who is far from the archetypal wide player, boasts an impressive goal contribution in that regard, which Lingard must look to emulate.

One example of a goal that highlighted his attacking promise was his winner against Sweden in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship. Lurking on the edge of the box from a corner, Lingard controlled a clearance with one touch on his chest and arrowed a volley into the net with his second.

That strike capped an impressive tournament for the Warrington-born midfielder, who was without doubt England’s standout player in the Czech Republic.

Next: Herrera praises defensive heroics after 4th clean sheet

All in all, it’s been a good 2015 for Lingard on a personal level. After signing a new contract in February, he had a successful loan spell with Derby in the Championship, impressed with England’s U21s and has now earned a spot in United’s first-team squad.

Few would have predicted such a spike in his career trajectory, at least not this quickly, but it’s to his enormous credit that he is now part of this Manchester United team.