Romelu Lukaku scored his 100th Premier League goal as Manchester United retook second place in the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Swansea on Saturday, although it was Jesse Lingard who stole the show.
Lingard, who started England’s two recent friendlies, is emerging as an increasingly important figure for Gareth Southgate as he prepares for the World Cup in Russia.
The 25-year-old, playing in the ‘number 10′ role behind Lukaku, also showed his value to Jose Mourinho by helping to lay on the Belgian’s 100th goal and creating a second for Alexis Sanchez, all inside the opening 20 minutes.
After just five minutes, Lingard’s perceptive pass found Sanchez who squared for Lukaku to score his 26th goal of the season, via a deflection off defender Alfie Mawson, from 12 yards.
Then, even more impressively, Lingard collected the ball just inside the Swansea half before advancing and splitting the visitors’ defence with a pass that Sanchez ran onto before beating Lukasz Fabianski with a venomous shot from the edge of the area.
United moved back ahead of Liverpool after Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Crystal Palace, although remain 13 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City, who could secure the title against United at the Etihad Stadium next weekend should they get past Everton later on Saturday.
It was a dream opening for Mourinho, who had handed Paul Pogba just his fourth start in the 10 games since the manager appeared to have an on-field disagreement with the Frenchman in a defeat by Tottenham at the end of January.
With Mourinho’s relationship with United’s record signing having been widely questioned in the aftermath of that incident, it was an opportunity for Pogba to showcase his undoubted talents.
It was a good response from Pogba, who had impressed in France’s friendly victory in Russia in midweek, although, given the poor quality of the opposition, in a contest that did not test him too severely.
The Pogba situation has been just one of many talking points for United during a campaign which has failed to live up to the expectation of some supporters and pundits.
– Man United in ‘transition’ –
Mourinho, who has fiercely defended his own performance while, on occasion recently, publicly questioning his players, used his programme notes to launch yet another impassioned defence of his campaign.
“It is clear for everyone to see that this club is in a moment of transition,” wrote Mourinho.
“In the history of football all around the world, all of the biggest clubs have phases of continuous victories and phases of transition, and these cycles go on.
“Despite this, last season we managed to win two trophies. This season, we are through to the semi-final of the FA Cup and our aim will, of course, be to try to win it.”
One of the major criticisms levelled at Mourinho has been the supposed lack of attacking flair and ambition shown by his team although those characteristics were clearly on display against Swansea.
Fabianski saved well from Lukaku and Lingard in between the two first-half goals, while the second period opened with Sanchez heading just over and Juan Mata volleying over on the turn from Pogba’s superb through ball.
Not until the hour mark was David de Gea called into action, the Spaniard making two excellent stops from Tammy Abraham in quick succession as the visitors enjoyed their first spell of pressure.
Having weathered that flurry of Swansea attacks, United coasted towards victory.
Pogba, becoming more involved in the final third of the field, almost laid on a second goal for Lukaku in the 80th minute, lofting a pass to the far post where Lukaku controlled on his chest, only to be denied from six yards by Fabianski’s block.