LIVERPOOL, England — For all the recent talk about the money Jose Mourinho has — or hasn’t — spent at Manchester United, his best player at the moment might be one who cost the club nothing.
United prides itself on the blossoming of its youth-team graduates and Jesse Lingard is the latest to flourish on the big stage.
Lingard scored his seventh goal in his last nine Premier League games to wrap up United’s 2-0 win at Everton on Monday, which ended the team’s run of three draws that might have fully knocked it out of title contention.
At age 25, the forward is finally establishing himself as a first-team regular at United, proving much more influential and clinical than the dropped Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the position just off the striker.
Lingard signed professional terms with United in 2011 before spending periods on loan at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby in England’s lower leagues from 2012-15. Much like Harry Kane at Tottenham, Lingard — a locally born player — has taken a circuitous route to his current position as one of the form players in the Premier League.
"These boys, they jump or they don’t jump," United manager Jose Mourinho said. "One thing is to be a talent, another thing is to be a very good player. Some players are not capable of making that jump, some players go from that … to normal players.
"I think Jesse has made that jump. He has been more consistent, adaptable, he understands the game, the different positions. He is going in a good direction."
It is not just the number of goals Lingard is scoring that is impressive, it’s the quality of his strikes, too. His latest was a curling 25-meter (yard) shot that found the top corner in the 81st minute, adding to Anthony Martial’s goal for United in the 57th.
A difficult festive period for United had threatened to get worse on Monday. With Liverpool edging past Burnley 2-1 earlier thanks to an injury-time winner, a defeat for United at Everton hours later would have dropped Mourinho’s team below its arch rival to fourth place.
Instead, United climbed to second place, 12 points behind Manchester City, whose game in hand is against Watford on Tuesday.
Here’s what else happened in the Premier League on Monday:
LEAVING IT LATE
Ragnar Klavan headed home from close range in the fourth minute of stoppage time to earn Liverpool a third straight win and cement fourth place at the end of the busy four-game festive period.
Liverpool had conceded an equalizer in the 87th minute to Johann Berg Gudmundsson, which cancelled out the opening goal by Sadio Mane — the only member of Liverpool’s so-called "Fab 4" attack to start at Turf Moor.
Roberto Firmino was on the bench, while Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah were out injured.
Liverpool is six points clear of fifth-place Arsenal.
PRESSURE ON HUGHES
Mark Hughes is the latest Premier League manager in danger of getting fired after his Stoke side lost 1-0 at home to Newcastle, two days after a 5-0 defeat at Chelsea when Hughes rested his frontline players.
There were boos from Stoke fans at the final whistle, while a "Hughes Out" banner was on display inside the stadium.
"Who else is going to do it?" Hughes said, when asked about his future after 4 1/2 years at Stoke. "In terms of the knowledge of the group and the progress in my time here, I’m the best person to do it."
Stoke has won only two games in its last 12 and dropped to 16th place, two points clear of the relegation zone.
Ayoze Perez scored the 73rd-minute winner for Newcastle.
EASY FOR LEICESTER
Leicester hardly missed the injured Jamie Vardy in a routine 3-0 win over Huddersfield.
The striker had a groin problem and wasn’t risked by manager Claude Puel. Vardy’s replacement, Islam Slimani, scored as did Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton.
In the other game, Callum Wilson scored a late equalizer for Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw at Brighton in a match between two mid-table teams.