As Manchester United fans across the globe have compiled their ideal XI this summer, filling their lineups with various fanciful additions, it is fair to say that Jesse Lingard will not have featured particularly heavily.
Despite having made 82 appearances, including 60 starts, for United over the last two seasons, Lingard has found it difficult to win over the vast majority of supporters. For some, he is more noticeable for his dancing duets with Paul Pogba than his on-field attributes. And with Jose Mourinho looking to build a United side in his mould during his second pre-season in charge, the England wide man has been identified by many to be a likely fall guy.
But on Monday night he delivered another example of just what he can offer Mourinho’s side as United’s 10 men overcame a lively Real Salt Lake side, triumphing 2-1 in the second game of their pre-season tour. While the Red Devils will come up against far more challenging opponents before the new campaign begins, this was a decent test of their progress so far.
Typically for an early pre-season game there was a lack of cohesion at times, particularly after their fast start gave way to a more laboured period as United failed to keep with the pace set by a first-choice RSL lineup who knew they could expend some energy ahead of their scheduled withdrawals after half an hour.
Yet Lingard was one of United’s stand-outs as they eventually pulled their way back into the game after Luis Silva’s opener, having a hand in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s opener before helping to tee up Romelu Lukaku for his first goal in United colours.
As Lingard’s involvement grew, so too did his confidence and his influence. With Mourinho lining his side up in a 4-3-3 formation with a fluid attacking setup, the 24-year-old revelled in the restrictions being lifted as he popped up in a number of different areas within the final third to put United in decent positions.
Scott McTominay also impressed in midfield, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba were prevalent in the first-half comeback to give Mourinho some reasons to be cheerful. However, the second-half sending-off of Antonio Valencia for a dangerous tackle from behind will have been a minor annoyance, even if the manager decided not to heed the warning of the referee that he was about to send off the Ecuadorian if Mourinho didn’t withdraw him.
With the match coming within 48 hours of their 5-2 win over the LA Galaxy and played in intense heat at altitude, it is hardly the end of the world that United were far from convincing. With their first International Champions Cup fixture coming up against Manchester City in Houston on Thursday, United got a good workout from RSL ahead of the step up in intensity.
And Lingard will be particularly pleased with his evening’s work. When your value to the side is questioned in every single game, every opportunity to impress is more than welcomed.
Mourinho is not a man who believes in always picking the same XI week-in, week-out, and Lingard's value to the squad is something the Portuguese isn't about to underestimate — even if many United fans continue to do so.