Jose Mourinho’s love for having two players per position may leave some footballers unhappy with the amount of stiff competition it creates in a squad but the Portuguese’s track record can prove that it works.
Manchester United’s front four are undeniably versatile and flexible. In fact, it’s hard to think of any other club with an attack more capable of interchanging with one another than the Red Devils.
Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata are all capable of filling in on either wing or just behind the striker. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial play the flanks well themselves and are of course more adept at the forward position.
Romelu Lukaku perhaps is the least versatile player but as an out and out striker it’s understandable that he doesn’t feature elsewhere. However, he works the channels constantly during games and that helps his teammates run into positions a striker would normally occupy, confusing opposition defenders.
The flexibility and versatility of Manchester United’s attack is a huge reason for their goalscoring records this season. However, it’s also slowly becoming clear where Jose Mourinho prefers certain players.
Rashford and Martial typically feature on the left flank, Mata on the right and Mkhitaryan behind Lukaku. So where does this leave Lingard? A player originally brought into the squad by Louis Van Gaal as a wing-back.
Normally a winger, Jesse actually has a preference of featuring in the most creative position on the pitch and so far this season it looks as though Mourinho has finally given him his wish.
Last season the Englishman played in any of the three positions behind the striker but Jose seems to be nurturing him as an attacking midfielder. Henrikh may start the majority of games there but rather than subbing off a winger for another winger, the Manchester United boss has subbed the Armenian off for Lingard most of the time so far, as if to hint that his future lies there.
Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs, has previously stated that Jesse was the worst player to coach as he did everything right and so it made it tough to pass on any advice. Giggs also complimented his ability in the number 10 role in particular, a role we’re seeing Lingard fulfil more and more often.
The United academy product has many great strengths and a few weaknesses. For example, his lack of strength can be a bit of a hinderance in the most congested area of the pitch as he’s often shoved off the ball with ease by opposition players.
Another issue Lingard seems to be struggling with, especially lately, is his finishing. His movement and pace often means that he finds himself in perfect positions to find the net but he misses opportunities more often than he scores them.
Mourinho has made it clear he expects more goals from his front four and while Rashford and Martial are scoring for fun and Mkhitaryan is assisting with eyes closed, Lingard is struggling to do much of either.
Of course he hasn’t gotten a fair crack of the whip yet but he’ll have to impress in his cameo appearances if he wishes to start more often, just ask Anthony. Jesse will be 25 years old by the end of the year and he’ll have less and less time to make as much an impact as he wishes at United.
His strengths all suit the No.10 role perfectly- his runs past the striker help drag defenders out of position, his eye for a pass helps unlock defences, his flair and dribbling helps him out of tight spots before releasing the ball. What’s left is putting up numbers the same way Martial or Rashford do so that there’s an end product to his good work.
There’s nothing more Manchester United fans love to see than an academy product come through the system to perform for the club on a weekly basis but at the moment Lingard risks his future in the same way Jonny Evans or Tom Cleverley did. Both started their careers brightly but fizzled out of Old Trafford.
There’s certainly space for him in this squad, quite often he offers something a little different off the bench but without a doubt the young Englishman will be hoping for more of an impact than he’s currently making. The skill is there, it’s just time to deliver.