In Focus: Why forgotten man Lingard deserves United chance
One of the accusations levelled against former Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was that he had his favourites — clearly Jesse Lingard was not one of them.
So it was fitting that Lingard came on as an 89th-minute substitute in Solskjaer’s final game in charge — last Saturday’s miserable 4-1 defeat at Watford.
The England international had barely had a look-in under his outgoing boss, having returned from a sensational loan spell with West Ham last season.
Amid rumours of contract talks between Lingard and United breaking down, we look at why the 28-year-old should be a part of reported new boss Ralf Rangnick's plans going forward.
A future unfulfilled?
Plenty has changed since then but in September, United were confident that Lingard would extend his stay with the club he first joined at the age of seven.
Speaking at the time, Solskjaer said: "[Lingard has] got this season left on his contract, the club is talking to him and his dad and we see him as a Manchester United player in the future.
"Jesse has come back to us after a great spell at West Ham. He’s shown his qualities and is back in the England squad. He scored goals for England and we really want to see the best of Jesse this season.
"We support him and want to keep him here with us. He’s a red through and through."
Competition for places
After tearing it up with nine goals in 16 games as West Ham narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification, Lingard might have made his loan switch to the London Stadium permanent.
But a deal did not materialise and he returned to Old Trafford determined to fight for his United career.
He might have had more of a look-in too, had they not re-signed club legend Cristiano Ronaldo, pushing Lingard down the pecking order.
Even before the Portuguese’s return, the Red Devils were stacked in attack and Daniel James was sold to Leeds for £25million as a result.
Solskjaer’s United attracted considerable criticism for their pressing deficiencies.
Going by passes per defensive action, United rank 14th in the Premier League for pressing intensity.
He would need to be incorporated into a wider, more organised pressing strategy, but Lingard’s work rate and energy are two standout aspects of his game.
For West Ham, Lingard averaged 21.9 pressures per 90 — more than any United player last season apart from Fred (24) and James (21.9) — and forced a turnover an average of 4.49 times per 90, placing him just outside the top 10 United players in that respect.
Every minute counts
Lingard has made just nine United appearances this season, featuring for a total of 154 minutes across the Premier League, Champions League and Carabao Cup.
In fact, he has actually played more minutes for his country than his club since forcing his way back into Gareth Southgate’s plans.
But Lingard has made those minutes count, scoring twice in only 63 Premier League minutes — including an 89th-minute winner away to, typically, West Ham.
So what more does he have to do?
United in need of assistance
As well as showing a ruthless streak in front of goal for West Ham, Lingard demonstrated his creative side.
Four Premier League assists at a rate of 0.25 per 90 minutes represented a prolific return in East London.
Extrapolated out over the course of a season that would be nine assists. Only five Premier League players finished 2020-21 with more than nine assists to their name.
With Paul Pogba currently injured, United are having to make do without their creator-in-chief. The Frenchman has already set up seven Premier League goals this season — only Mohamed Salah (eight) has assisted more.
Despite his startling lack of involvement, Lingard is third at United for chances created per 90 minutes (2.81) behind another outcast in Donny van de Beek (4.5) and Bruno Fernandes (3.31).
United could turn to Lingard to help take some of the load off Fernandes.
Selection in critical encounters, such as this afternoon's clash at Stamford Bridge, will be a key litmus test for Lingard.
Playing and performing well could secure his long-term future at a club undergoing huge change.
Omission may suggest an Old Trafford exit is imminent.