Transfer Talk: Lingard could help Hammers nail down a top-four spot
Jesse Lingard could find himself back at West Ham in January after a lack of game time with Manchester United.
The attacking midfielder, 29, is in the final year of his contract at Old Trafford and is moving closer to an exit from his boyhood club.
With the race for Champions League qualification well and truly on, the Hammers are in need of an added attacking spark in their ranks.
Ahead of tonight's London derby with fellow European hopefuls Arsenal, we take a look at how the Irons' former loan star could be the man to give them a timely boost this winter.
Superstar to supersub
Despite making some notable cameo appearances from the bench — most notably scoring the winner in United's 2-1 triumph at the London Stadium in September — Lingard has yet to start a Premier League game this term.
The Warrington-born ace has seen less than 90 minutes of top-flight action combined, finding himself out of favour with both ex-boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and current interim head coach Ralf Rangnick.
Lingard was left out of the squad entirely for the victory against Crystal Palace earlier this month and did not feature from the bench in the win at Norwich last Saturday.
That puts into perspective why he rejected a new contract in November — the England international clearly wants to be playing regular football.
And his decision will have not gone unnoticed by Hammers boss David Moyes, who is in need of reinforcements in attacking areas.
During his loan spell in East London last term, Lingard featured 16 times and scored on nine occasions to help fire Moyes' men to sixth in the table.
The Glaswegian would hope to see similar returns if a January switch can be arranged.
West Ham currently sit fourth in the Premier League, a point above Rangnick's men, but whether United would sanction an agreement with perceived rivals could be the key to any move.
Should the two parties reach a cordial understanding, the transfer would make obvious sense for Lingard.
It is no secret the midfielder enjoyed his time at the London Stadium, even if it was for a limited period.
His statistics and performances under Moyes were excellent — eventually earning him a recall to Gareth Southgate's England squad following an almost two-year absence.
As we move into a World Cup year, likely to be Lingard's last opportunity to play at a major tournament for the Three Lions, staying in Southgate's plans will undoubtedly be a priority for the 32-cap international.
A return to the capital could be critical to his chances of boarding a plane to Qatar.
Under the guidance of Moyes, Lingard scored several vital goals for the Irons as they secured Europa League football.
A thumping strike against Tottenham was a memorable moment for the United youth product — alongside his goal and assist against Arsenal in a 3-3 draw back in March.
When asked about the likelihood of Lingard's potential return, Moyes was complimentary but also non-committal.
He said: "I can't really talk about him because he's a Manchester United player and it's not for me to talk.
"But he was really good for us. Jesse knows what we all think of him here. My disappointment for Jesse would be that I think he's such a talented football player and he's not playing.
"He played a big part in our second half of last season. But you'd have to give credit to the players here, they've moved on without Jesse."
Moyes' praise of Lingard will have given the player hope of another new beginning in the near future, with his chance to impress in Rangnick's revolution looking increasingly unlikely.
The missing piece?
West Ham have aspirations of reaching the Champions League — and they could well achieve it.
Despite United being favoured by the bookies to claim fourth this season, Lingard's potential switch could impact the odds.
The Hammers have done well to stay in touch with the top six so far this season — but with the Europa League knockout phase approaching, Moyes will need to maximise the efforts of every player.
One who would benefit from the return of the England maestro is Michail Antonio.
The striker, 31, has not scored a league goal since October, despite the impressive form of creative talents Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen around him.
Add Lingard's expertise to the mix and Antonio could see his goalscoring output increase again as we move into the business end of the season.
If West Ham are serious about wanting to battle with Europe's top clubs, bringing Lingard back seems to be a no-brainer.
It is now a case how seriously United view Moyes' men as competition for that coveted fourth spot — and whether Lingard believes West Ham are the club to help him come good in time for Qatar.