The International break came at an odd time for Manchester United, following a highly chastised loss to Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 and a dull but successful FA Cup quarter final win over Brighton, but the break provides a unique opportunity for two of United’s latest academy success stories, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. The pair have continued to impress United boss José Mourinho, and now have the chance to convince England manager Gareth Southgate they belong on the plane to Russia in June.
It’s no secret that Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are good mates on and off the pitch. The two United Academy graduates had instant first team chemistry in 2016 when Rashford broke onto the scene in Louis Van Gaal’s final season. Rashford credits Lingard for keeping him grounded and focused, and Lingard credits Rashford for doing the same on his great run this season. Both could break through as regulars for England leading up to the World Cup, and the opportunity to pair them for the Three Lions should not be passed up by Gareth Southgate. The two have great chemistry on the pitch at United, and playing together for England could be beneficial for the team’s chance to make up for previous tournament embarrassments.
Rashford and Lingard both featured in England’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, with Lingard starting in both matches. Though Southgate fielded a young side in the friendly, he is limited in matches leading up to the tournament and is no doubt experimenting with which players can make a difference this summer in Russia. Lingard’s strike against the Dutchmen was the lone exciting moment in a fairly dull affair, and it shows he’s ready to take advantage of the opportunities given to him. England caps were hard to come by for Lingard in the early years of his career, and now at 25 he won’t take his chances lightly. He and Rashford have rightfully won places in the United first team by making up for inexperience and skill with effort and adaptability, two qualities England has desperately lacked over the past decade.
Southgate has also indicated he may stick with a 3-man defense, meaning more room for diverse attacking talent such as Jesse Lingard, who can play on the wing, at number 10, or even as a striker. Playing in the middle would be ideal for Lingard, who has excelled at the position for United, and where he can also play next to Rashford, who has made a name for himself on the left for United and the Three Lions.
Lingard could also be a potential starter through the middle should Dele Alli continue to get on Southgate’s bad side. Dele was reportedly acting out in training over the international break, resulting in extended playing time for Lingard. Lingard and Rashford are also arguably better partners for Raheem Sterling in the second line of attack. Despite being rivals in academy play and in first team football, Sterling, Lingard, and Rashford appear to be good friends whenever they’re in the England camp, and even speak highly of each other to the media. England’s “golden generation” was anything but largely because of the lack of chemistry between the star players, who spent the entire club season bitterly competing with each other for League and Cup trophies.
Rashford and Lingard’s chemistry could be beneficial for the Three Lions going forward, especially in the absence of their star striker, Harry Kane. The forward position can be filled by Rashford, who some argue should play a similar role for United, and Kane’s health must not play a factor like Wayne Rooney’s health did in 2006 and 2010 (in terms of both team performance and media attention). Southgate must have other options than Danny Welbeck and Jamie Vardy, and he has already shown he is more willing to bring up England’s next generation into the first team than Roy Hodgson was. Rashford and Lingard appear to be a part of that.
This summer England will feature a drastically different team than that of the previous 2 World Cups, and Southgate’s willingness to experiment with new players and formations may be just what Rashford and Lingard need to succeed for the Three Lions.