Lingard reminds Mourinho of his best position
After he was erroneously positioned in the playmaker role at Huddersfield, this was an emphatic response from Jesse Lingard and it was not a coincidence it came in a position where he is at his best. Starting as one of the midfield runners ahead of Ander Herrera, he took both of his goals with assurance and it is ironic that he hardly plays in a role which is usually teeming with options.
Jose Mourinho has not had Paul Pogba for over a month, Marouane Fellaini has been unavailable this month and Michael Carrick’s only outing was against Burton Albion before he succumbed to injury. Lingard proved in Mourinho’s first United game against Leicester in the Community Shield how pivotal he can perform there, scoring a virtuoso opener.
He might have retained his place for the Tottenham test, should Mourinho keep three midfielders.
Darmian proves his point
It seemed Mourinho had disregarded the right-footed right-back Matteo Darmian on the right flank. The Italian has played the majority of his football under the Portuguese on the opposite wing and, in justifying that switch, Mourinho suggested Darmian was selected purely to defend so United could free up Antonio Valencia.
At Swansea, Darmian was back in the role where he came to English supporters’ attention against England at the last World Cup. His assist for Lingard from right wing-back was the kind of measured cross Darmian is rarely associated with and proof he can provide an attacking outlet when used in the area he is most comfortable in.
Darmian mainly turns out for the Azzurri at right wing-back and as Mourinho continues to trial three at the back it could extend Darmian’s stay at United.
Warming up for bigger tests?
Mourinho switched to three at the back for only the third time this season on Tuesday night. The 3-5-2 was identical to the system United used against Real Madrid and Mourinho might have adopted it at Swansea ahead of fixtures against other eminent sides in Tottenham this weekend and Chelsea on Sunday week.
Phil Jones was understandably not risked and Eric Bailly could be available versus Spurs. Chris Smalling might be the favourite to supplement them but Axel Tuanzebe should not be discounted after his composed showing in south Wales.
It was a night where fringe players were afforded the privilege of settling in their strongest positions. Lingard got a brace, Darmian created a goal and Tuanzebe was the architect for it. Anthony Martial made a point of congratulating the Rochdale-raised teenager for his positivity as Tuanzebe exhibited the kind of ball-playing composure Victor Lindelof was bought to offer.
This was Tuanzebe’s first senior start at centre-back – his preferred position – and he showed why he should have had more minutes by this stage. He bailed out Lindelof on one occasion and Tuanzebe played like he does during his rare reserves outings; like a central defender whose confidence belies his inexperience. The transition to the first-team has been seamless.
The 19-year-old’s evening was not without some snags. He collected a booking for a late challenge on Andre Ayew and got schooled early on by Wayne Routledge, yet those learning curves will benefit him in the long run.
Herrera returning to form?
Herrera’s forward pass which Marcus Rashford deftly flicked on for Lingard to put United ahead was not in keeping with his recent form. Herrera, signed as an attacking midfielder, has not performed like one in the absence of Pogba and his passing has been so lateral at times one might have wondered whether Louis van Gaal was coaching him.
Herrera was much more offensive at the Liberty Stadium and not as pent up or rash as he was in the recent fixtures, where United suffered without a controlling midfielder. He helped Henrikh Mkhitaryan find the breakthrough against Spurs 10 months ago and that level of performance is required again in three days.
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