By Simon Evans
REPINO, Russia (Reuters) – England’s Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard says Gareth Southgate has brought about a revolution with the national team and vows they won’t change their positive approach for Tuesday’s last-16 clash with Colombia.
Lingard, whose long-range goal in England’s 6-1 win over Panama has been one of the highlights of the team’s performances, says he is enjoying his role as part of a trio operating behind striker and captain Harry Kane.
“It feels like a new revolution. The manager has come in with great ideas, great ideas in the way he wants us to play. The formation suits us perfectly,” said the 25-year-old.
Lingard is seen as one of the key players keeping the atmosphere in the squad light and he said that the mood among the players has been perfect.
“As a group of lads, it is a young squad but we still have those experienced players in there and the team spirit is amazing at the moment. We are excited and enjoying the World Cup,” he said.
After victories over Tunisia and Panama booked England’s place in the group stage, a mainly second-string side lost to an also weakened Belgium in the final group match.
Second-place meant England entered what is viewed as the easier half of the draw but Lingard said that factor was far from the players’ minds.
“No. Obviously we are going to have to play the big teams sooner rather than later, and if you want to be the best team in the world, you’ve got to beat the big teams. So we’re not really fussed which side we are on,” he said.
Nor is the midfielder expecting England to adjust their tactics given the higher stakes and the qualities of their South American opponents.
“We don’t need to change too much. No matter what round we are in, we are still going to play the same. We’ll play without fear and with that freedom. That’s what got us here today so why change?,” he said.
Lingard praised his club manager Jose Mourinho for showing faith in him and giving him the chance to shine at Old Trafford. But he is also clearly relishing his key role in the England set-up, where he is expected to create for and support Kane, the tournament’s top scorer with five goals from his two games.
“There are still defensive responsibilities, when you are playing midfield attacking and defending is part of the job.
“But when we are in possession, it allows me to get further forward to get beyond the striker a bit more and get into goalscoring positions,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson)