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Jesse Lingard England and Manchester United's joker in the pack with a serious side

Philadelphia Eagles' Jay Ajayi gives his predictions for the knockout stages of the World Cup - can England go all the way??
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There is a story told by one of Manchester United's first-team coaching staff that he says sums up Jesse Lingard.

It begins with Lingard, dancing and joking, lining up for a set of sprints during a training session warm-up. It was noted that he did not look like he was paying particular attention to the instructions being delivered. But before a rebuke could be dished out, there was a shout of "go" and the sight of Lingard streaking away to win his race.

And that, in a nutshell, is Jesse Lingard. Relaxed and fun-loving, but serious when it matters. He is fast becoming the face of Gareth Southgate's new England. A joker in the pack -- both on and off the pitch.

Lingard's description of this young England squad could almost be applied to himself.

"We play with no fear," he told ESPN FC.

"We play free so we've just got believe in ourselves and trust each other."

After scoring a sublime curling effort in the 6-1 demolition of Panama, he was withdrawn in the second half and was caught by television cameras juggling a balled up pair of socks on the bench.

It says much about the esteem in which Southgate holds Lingard, 25, that he was given England's No.7 shirt before the tournament began.

When victory over Panama was assured, it was Lingard and Harry Kane who Southgate substituted first -- mindful of keeping his best players fresh for the knockout rounds.

You won't need a long lens trained on Steve Holland over the weekend to know the Manchester United midfielder will start against Colombia in Moscow on Tuesday night.

The training sessions at England's Repino base, which have been open to the media, have shown the jovial side of Lingard's character that United's coaches see every day at Carrington, where he has a personalised handshake for every player and member of staff.

He is, though, far more than the big, bold persona he appears to be on social media. He can be so softly spoken during interviews that questioners have to turn up their dictaphones to full volume to hear back his answers.

After a spate of media requests before Christmas, he told one United staff member that he didn't want to do any more interviews. Not because he was being rude but because, according to those who know him best, there is a shyness in his personality that is easy to overlook. Two weeks later, however, he was back talking to reporters after scoring in a 2-1 win at West Brom. He joked that if he really wanted to stop doing interviews, he should probably consider scoring fewer goals.

His strike at the Hawthorns was one of 13 in all competitions last season -- far and away his best return since making his first-team debut in Louis van Gaal's first game in charge in August 2014.

His mental toughness is often under-appreciated. That first game against Swansea nearly four years ago only lasted 24 minutes because of a serious knee injury. He had to wait more than a year to play for the first team again.

He has confessed since that, during a string of loan spells at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby, he feared he might not make the grade at Old Trafford.

The skill and technique on show at the World Cup was developed as a way for Lingard to compensate for a perceived lack of height and strength when he was younger, according to Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant Mike Phelan.

"He was good technically and he was good skilfully but the physical side was posing him problems," Phelan, now chairman of football equipment and coaching company Sensible Soccer, told ESPN FC.

"But that didn't deter him. Jesse is a tough cookie, and when you look back on things it's possibly no surprise he's where he is now given his mentality and attitude to his daily work.

"I knew he would be a footballer, there was no doubt in that, but whether he could do it in a side chasing titles and Champions Leagues and also play for his country? That's not something that was plainly obvious.

"But Jesse wanted to play for Manchester United and he's now doing that and doing it well. He's shown fantastic determination to achieve that."

The hours spent training at Carrington, often on his own, were worth it when he scored an extra time winner in the 2016 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.

He has a knack of scoring in big games -- the FA Cup final, the League Cup final last year and against Arsenal and Chelsea last season.

You would not bet against him doing it again against Colombia.

"Pressure is good," he told ESPN FC.

"We've got that experience in the bank. We know each other's qualities and we know our own job and what we need to do. We're used to big games."

He will hope for a few more before he leaves Russia.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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