Jesse Lingard has revealed that an attitude shift in the Manchester United dressing room has taken place ever since winning the Europa League and seeing the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic added to the ranks at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho’s men suffered a dismal Premier League campaign last season, managing less goals at home than Hull City (who were relegated) and only claiming one goal away from home against the top six. Such a domestic malaise left them in sixth spot, 24 points behind Chelsea, and relying on winning the Europa League as a means of reaching the Champions League and saving their season from complete failure.
Standing in their way was a youthful but dangerous Ajax side, and United put in a quintessentially Mourinho-esque performance to stampede their way to a comfortable 2-0 win, with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan claiming the goals. Since then United have made important reinforcements, enjoyed a smooth pre-season and sent a message to the rest of the Premier League with an emphatic 4-0 win over West Ham United on the opening day of the season.
And Lingard, speaking earlier this week, noted that the dressing room atmosphere has now shifted dramatically ever since that crucial win in Stockholm.
“There’s a lot of confidence flying around at the moment and it’s good that we can stick together and be a part of it,” he said.
“Even the lads who weren’t involved at the weekend still played a big part in the win. You could say that. We’ve come off the back of three trophies, so the confidence is flowing.
“The group that we had it was easy for players to settle in, the likes of Rom [Lukaku] and Victor [Lindelof], it was always going to be easy for them. They’re very down to earth guys and they want to work hard on the training pitch.”
“I don’t see why not,” he said when asked whether United could challenge for the title this season. “The whole team is working hard this season and hopefully we’ll win trophies. We’re in a lot of competitions, the more trophies the better.”
“It’s a very tall dressing room but you’ve got to handle yourself and let them score the headers,” he added jokingly.
“I didn’t really watch him [Matic] much last season but you can see what he can bring to the team. He’s a player that’s very stable on the ball and can keep it ticking over for us.
“We know Nemanja is a different midfield player and he can just feed the ball to Paul [Pogba] and the other midfield players and let them play their own game. He can sit back and stabilise the play for us.”
Just imagine for a second if Ajax won. Would we have been enjoying the sight of Lukaku ripping through West Ham’s back four – or Matic pulling the strings alongside Pogba – last weekend? Absolutely not.
United struggled against top sides last season but their European triumph, followed by the injection of established Premier League talents, gives them a crucial air of confidence heading into big occasions that could prove to be so vital over the next nine months. Mourinho’s men, bit by bit, are starting to look like a group of hardened, assured warriors capable of inflicting damage on the domestic front this season.