Gareth Southgate backs England’s Jesse Lingard to rise to Cristiano Ronaldo challenge at Manchester United

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate has backed Jesse Lingard to rise to the challenge of competing with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United after he scored twice in England's 4-0 win over Andorra.

Southgate described Lingard as his side’s "brightest spark" as England maintained their 100 per cent start to World Cup qualifying with a stroll at Wembley.

Lingard, who opted to stay at Old Trafford this summer despite a hugely successful loan spell at West Ham from January, scored either side of Harry Kane’s penalty and set-up Bukayo Saka's late header in England’s first game at Wembley since the European Championship final defeat.

Lingard barely played at United in the first half of last season and Ronaldo’s return to Manchester has only increased competition for places in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s star-studded squad.

Asked about Lingard's competition at club level, Southgate said: "That’s a situation that we have had with different players over a long period with England.

“It wasn’t long ago that the numbers of English players in the league was low and we would have to pick players that weren’t regulars in their team or on loan. We picked Mason [Mount] from the Championship so we have had to be creative.

“We know Jesse has a challenge and he knows he has a big challenge with the quality of attacking players at United. But they’ve also got a lot of matches in different competitions so hopefully he can take that challenge on and he will take that challenge on.

“He has rebounded brilliantly in the last 12 months from a difficult period and he has shown today that he has got quality. It is not necessarily the quality of the opponent but it is performing with the quality of players that we have and stand out. That shows his level of quality.

“I know that I have had criticism for including him in squads but he is just a player that always plays well for us. He is always a threat on goal with bright link play. When we ask him to start wide, we know he will come in and do the give-and-gos.

“He has really good intelligence and works hard without the ball and presses well. Today, I thought he was the brightest spark, particularly in the first half as it was the type of game where those players who can manipulate the ball between the lines would shine more than others.”

Southgate named Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield three but changed his set-up at the interval, with the defender returning to right-back and Reece James moving into the middle of the park.

The England manager acknowledged that Alexander-Arnold looked more comfortable at full-back but said nothing was lost by trying him inside.

“I think it is inevitable that [Trent was more comfortable in the second half] given that he has played most of his football at right-back," Southgate said.

"I think we just wanted to see something. We felt this was a good game to look at it. Clearly, in the second half he was in more of those positions where he felt more comfortable. His play with the ball exhibited that happiness, if you like.

“I think we wanted to have a look at playing him in a slightly more advanced role. We know that he has got outstanding quality with the ball, of course, he finds himself in those positions with Liverpool. What was clear in the first half was that there wasn’t a lot of space.

“Coming onto those positions is different to starting in those positions so I don’t think we lost anything by having a look at it. We felt at half-time that we could get more from Trent, Reece and Hendo [Jordan Henderson] by rotating those three.

“They started the second half well. It was a bit harsh for Reece to come off because I thought he played that pivot role well for those 15 minutes and he hit the bar from a shot. But we wanted another attacking player in midfield so we took Reece off at that moment.”

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