Late-bloomer Lingard finally showing quality
LIVERPOOL, England (AP):
For all the recent talk about the money Jose Mourinho has - or hasn't - spent at Manchester United, his best player at the moment might be one who cost the club nothing.
United pride themselves on the blossoming of their youth-team graduates and Jesse Lingard is the latest to flourish on the big stage.
Lingard scored his seventh goal in his last nine Premier League games to wrap up United's 2-0 win at Everton yesterday, which ended the team's run of three draws that might have fully knocked them out of title contention.
At age 25, the forward is finally establishing himself as a first-team regular at United, proving much more influential and clinical than the dropped Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the position just off the striker.
Lingard signed professional terms with United in 2011 before spending periods on loan at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby in England's lower leagues from 2012-15. Much like Harry Kane at Tottenham, Lingard - a locally born player - has taken a circuitous route to his current position as one of the form players in the Premier League.
"These boys, they jump or they don't jump," United manager Jose Mourinho said. "One thing is to be a talent, another thing is to be a very good player. Some players are not capable of making that jump, some players go from that ... to normal players.
"I think Jesse has made that jump. He has been more consistent, adaptable, he understands the game, the different positions. He is going in a good direction."
It is not just the number of goals Lingard is scoring that is impressive, it's the quality of his strikes, too. His latest was a curling 25-metre shot that found the top corner in the 81st minute, adding to Anthony Martial's goal for United in the 57th.
A difficult festive period for United had threatened to get worse with Liverpool edging past Burnley 2-1 earlier thanks to an injury-time winner, a defeat for United at Everton hours later would have dropped Mourinho's team below their arch rivals to fourth place.
Instead, United climbed to second place, 12 points behind Manchester City, whose game in hand is against Watford today.