Manchester United have seen off much of their squad to their respective national teams for World Cup duty. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, two coveted academy products and inseparable friends, made the flight to Russia together for England, and so far have not disappointed for the Three Lions leading up to the tournament.
England isn’t short of Premier League playmakers, with prolific stars such as Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, and Raheem Sterling all making the flight to Russia, but Rashford’s inclusion in the squad throughout qualification and the addition of Lingard as a regular heading into the tournament demonstrates Gareth Southgate’s willingness to get the most out of England’s young talents.
The young talents have returned the favor.
In the pre-tournament friendlies both Lingard and Rashford put in impressive performances with Lingard scoring the winner in a friendly against the Netherlands and Rashford scoring a Ronaldo-esque goal against Costa Rica. They’ve clearly caught the eye of Southgate and the England fans, many of whom were on twitter calling for Rashford to replace Sterling.
The pace and energy Lingard and Rashford bring to the side is obvious to see, but the young United standouts have also proven themselves consistently in important moments.
Lingard started in England’s first match of the tournament against Tunisia while Rashford began the game on the bench following a minor injury in training. Lingard had the most chances to score for the Lions, but whether due to mistimed shots or bad luck the goals simply wouldn’t come. Rashford came on late in the second half for Raheem Sterling after the City man put in an effort to forget, and the young United standout had an immediate impact. Rashford and Lingard’s energy and creativity helped reignite the England side after a dull second half showing, but it still wasn’t enough for a winning goal.
Harry Kane finally bagged a winner for England in stoppage time, sending a wave of relief across the country, but Gareth Southgate has quite a bit to be encouraged by.
Especially the last 20 minutes of the match.
In a ruthless demolition of a helpless Panama side, Lingard scored undoubtedly the best goal of the day in a 6-1 win to secure passage to the round of 16. A ranged strike that curled into the top right corner was typical to United fans who have seen Lingard bag some terrific goals in his breakout season.
Lingard has undoubtedly earned his place in the starting 11 for the next match, but Southgate would be wise to give Rashford a run at Belgium too. There is truly nothing to lose as a place in the knockout round has already been secured, and given Sterling’s poor run of form it would be nice to give other options a test run before the next meaningful match. As nice as it would be to see Raheem Sterling silence the Daily Mail on the pitch, he simply hasn’t performed well up front for England at the World Cup thus far.
Rashford has yet to break through as a regular at United, but with 13 goals and 6 assists he has continued to build on the statistics of his previous campaigns. Lingard too had a good season with United, recording 13 goals and 5 assists. Both players lacked the consistent form and playing time required to maintain season long success, but have still made a difference for their club in their young careers that already include silverware and clutch game, and even cup, winning goals.
England have looked much more expeditious under Southgate, and his squad experimentation is a welcome change to the dull and directionless years under Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson. Talent was wasted in the past, but the youthful 2018 squad shows the future may be there for England to take, especially with Lingard and Rashford. A World Cup seems unlikely for the Three Lions, but if these two catch fire anything is possible.