Jesse Lingard’s first Premier League appearance of last season came on February 3, when he left Manchester United to sign on loan for West Ham. This illustrates the extent to which the 28-year-old had become a forgotten figure at Old Trafford. In his absence, though, Lingard possibly salvaged his future as a United player.
Indeed, Lingard was a phenomenon for West Ham in the second half of last season, scoring nine goals and nothing four assists in just 16 appearances for David Moyes’ side. This astonishing form nearly earned him a place in England’s Euro 2020 squad, something that would have been unthinkable just a few months before the tournament.
Despite this it was widely suggested that Manchester United would cash in on Lingard, who has just one year left on his current contract, this summer – £30m is United’s reported asking price. The 28-year-old will struggle for first team football at Old Trafford and so it would be natural if he wants to build on the second half of last season by making a permanent exit.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, should keep Lingard around. United find themselves at a critical point in their development under the Norwegian with the Old Trafford outfit plotting a Premier League title challenge this season having finished second the season before. They will need strength in depth to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea, Liverpool and defending champions Manchester City.
This is where Lingard could enter the picture for United. The 28-year-old’s technical ability is in no doubt. Even when Lingard was a peripheral figure for Manchester United last season, his talent was widely recognised. His game, however, relies on confidence and now he has that fuel after the incredible impact made on loan at West Ham.
Lingard’s pre-season performances have hinted at a player, and a mindset, transformed. He is capable of playing on either wing or through the middle in behind a central striker. Lingard is a good fit for Solskjaer’s fluid and interchangeable frontline which will now include Jadon Sancho following his long-awaited arrival from Borussia Dortmund.
“He was one of the positives,” Solskjaer said after Lingard’s display in the 2-1 pre-season win over Derby County last week. “He’s a Manchester United player and he wants to fight for his place. He’s come back bright, confident and with lots of energy. I think everyone saw what he did at the end of last season with West Ham. He’s still in my plans. I expect him at Man Utd at the start of the season.”
If United are serious about winning the title for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, they will need top level squad players who can step into the first team when required. If Lingard embraces this role, he could still enjoy a career renaissance at United having earned himself another opportunity.
Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and now Sancho might be ahead of Lingard in the United pecking order but his contribution over the course of the season could still be significant. His goal threat would give United a different dimension, especially on the counter attack, where Lingard’s best qualities come to the fore.
The second half of last season reminded Solskjaer of Lingard’s capacity as a difference maker, and Manchester United need as many players of this mould as possible as they gear up for a title challenge. Along with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Martial, Rashford and Sancho, he could be a key part of the Premier League’s most devastating attacking unit.
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