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Jesse Lingard’s transformation into an attacking N’Golo Kante key to beating Croatia

Jesse Lingard's work rate has been a feature of England's World Cup campaign

How are the nerves?

The thought of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic subjecting Jordan Henderson to 90 minutes in a footballing washing machine would have been too much to handle pre-World Cup.

But now, under Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat revolution, nothing looks impossible.


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Elite BDE

PA:Press Association
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Elite BDE

On paper, England’s shape will be both our main strength and biggest cause for concern heading into the semi-final.

With the ball England line up in a 3-2-1-3-1 formation but out of possession Southgate’s side fall into a 5-1-3-1 formation.

Those three attacking midfielders will be crucial to running in behind Croatia’s defence, as well as dragging Rakitic and Modric out of position.

But, without getting too tactical, their attacking nature could leave Henderson, England’s sole central midfielder, exposed.

Bet that hug smells of success and vindaloo

Getty - Contributor
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Bet that hug smells of success and vindaloo

Jesse Lingard, therefore, becomes England’s most important player. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing heading into a World Cup semi-final.

Maybe it’s the overwhelming optimism coursing through my veins, but Lingard has been a revolution for England during the tournament.

He’s essentially taken the N’Golo Kante role and moved it 30 yards further up the pitch.

Not all heroes wear capes

Getty - Contributor
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Not all heroes wear capes

Lingard covered 12 kilometres during England’s 2-0 win against Sweden- running more than any other player on the pitch.

His energy will be crucial in denying Modric the space to drop deep and start dictating the tempo, both with and without the ball.

Lingard only needs to look as far as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most trusted on-pitch lieutenants for inspiration heading into the Croatia game.

Ji-Sung Park played a key role in Man United’s runs to the Champions League final in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

His starring moment came in the 2009 Champions League semi-final when he marked Barcelona’s midfield of Xavi and Andres Iniesta out of the tie.

A year later he did a such a thorough man-marking job on AC Milan’s Andrea Pirlo that the Italian name dropped Park in his autobiograhphy.

Pirlo said: “He unleashed Park to shadow me. He rushed about at the speed of an electron. He’d fling himself at me, his hands all over my back, trying to intimidate me.

“He’d look at the ball and not know what it was for. They’d programmed him to stop me. His devotion to the task was almost touching.”

Name a more iconic quartet

AFP - Getty
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Name a more iconic quartet

Lingard is by no means just a runner. He’s yet to dip below 90% when it comes to passing accuracy in Russia. He’s scored England’s best individual goal and assisted the best team goal.

But if he can do a job on Modric then his performance will go a long way to booking England a place in the World Cup final.

Gulp.