Jesse Lingard making the jump from promising youngster to great player
Jesse Lingard has become a key man for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.
The forward has scored seven goals in his last nine games, including five in his last five away from home. His tally of 10 for the season has already beaten his previous best of six in 2015-16.
Lingard's run of form has coincided with a change of position. Used regularly on the wing by Mourinho last season, the 25-year-old has been given a more central role in the last month.
The United manager said after Lingard's goal in the 2-0 win over Everton on Monday that it is helping the England international make the "jump" from promising youngster to "great player." He has had to wait, but that is not unusual for Lingard's career.
Sir Alex Ferguson identified in 2012 that Lingard, then 19, would not be physically strong enough to handle senior football as a teenager and predicted he would have to wait until he was "21 or 22."
He was right, and this season is just Lingard's third as an established member of United's first-team squad.
Lingard -- who had four loan spells in the Championship -- has still made only 69 Premier League appearances while Marcus Rashford, five years his junior, has already made 65. Here is a look at the games that have made Lingard undroppable this season.
Lingard started United's first game of the season as a wing-back in the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid in August, but lasted just 45 minutes. He wouldn't start another game for more than a month. And by the time United travelled to Swansea in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup at the end of October, he had started just three all season.
But picked to start behind a front two of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial at the Liberty Stadium, Lingard took his chance. He scored both goals in a 2-0 win, including a fantastic header in the second-half after a late dart into the penalty area.
Watford away on Nov. 28 was only Lingard's second Premier League start of the season and he capped it with a fine individual goal to kill the game.
Watford had come back from 3-0 down to press for an equaliser at 3-2 with five minutes to go before Lingard picked up the ball in midfield and ran half the length of the pitch to slot his finish past Heurelho Gomes to guarantee United all three points in a game they might have drawn.
Lingard's performance at Watford was enough to keep him in the team for the trip to Arsenal four days later. And if it was a gamble from Mourinho, it paid off. Again playing in the No. 10 role behind Romelu Lukaku, Lingard scored either side of half-time in a 3-1 win -- Mourinho's first win away from home against a top-six side since arriving at Old Trafford.
Just as important for United manager is Lingard's workrate, and it was his relentless chasing that led to Arsenal mistakes for United's first two goals inside the first 11 minutes at the Emirates.
United's long unbeaten home run ended against Manchester City, as well as any realistic chance of winning the Premier League title this season. Lingard did not have his best game, but it was still an important one.
Mourinho picked his strongest possible team -- including both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial -- and established No.10s Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were both left out to accommodate Lingard.
Lingard will have better games for United this season, but it was still a huge show of faith from Mourinho in such a big game.
Lingard scored in the 2-1 win at West Brom, as well as grabbing both goals as a substitute as United came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Burnley at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. Mourinho said afterwards Lingard had only been left out to save his legs during the hectic Christmas schedule.
Back in the team against Everton, this time starting on the left but with licence to drift inside, he scored with a fantastic curling effort to make the game safe at 2-0.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.