Former Arsenal full-back Martin Keown believes Jesse Lingard could play a vital role for Manchester United against Manchester City on Saturday.
The 25-year-old has discovered a vital goalscoring touch this term, finding the net on 14 occasions so far – more than what he managed in his first two campaigns with the senior side.
He has played a notably important role in big games this term, scoring winners against Arsenal and Chelsea.
And Keown, looking ahead to Saturday’s derby, noted that Lingard could be the key to a United victory at the Ethiad.
“Energy is what United need, they need someone to really press and hassle City’s midfield,” he said. “Jesse Lingard has to play, he can provide that energy and enthusiasm. I’m not sure Paul Pogba will play.”
“I just don’t think he’s 100 per cent fit after struggling with hamstring injuries this season. He doesn’t seem to have that sharpness or that pop in his legs.
“He can still make long, striding runs once he opens his legs out, but I’ve not seen him have the acceleration or agility players really need to control the midfield.”
United are at risk of being bogged down against City, pushed further and further back into their own box by the fluid passing of the hosts, until eventually a gap opens up along with the floodgates.
And Lingard, with his bursting pace through the middle, could be the antidote to that. Mourinho’s team found themselves bogged down at the Emirates in December and they were lucky that Arsenal were so profligate in attack, but the quick ball circulation through midfield allowed for Lingard, who had defenders in knots with his precise running, to ultimately decide the game.
United will need to defend well first and foremost. If they can do that and, in turn, maintain a solid midfield structure, Lingard’s influence on the break may indeed prove decisive.