Some say he’s not good enough to play for Manchester United, and others say he’s a scapegoat for poor performances. The announcement that Jesse Lingard would start for Manchester United against West Ham summed him up perfectly. This choice came from Jose Mourinho just days after Anthony Martial tore Middlesbrough’s defence to shreds, provoking mixed reactions from United fans, as usual. Lingard, a United youth product from Warrington, endears himself to fans with his key goals and social media antics, but he also divides United’s fan base.
Lingard undoubtedly has talent, but a large percentage of the United fan base believes he doesn’t have the technical ability to succeed at Manchester United, nor the ability to finish chances. Others, though, believe he is the type of hard-working player that is important in any squad. While the latter set of fans are certainly correct, recent performances would state that the former set of United fans also have meriting arguments.
Often treated as a youngster, Lingard is far from it. The United midfielder is 24 years of age, five older than Marcus Rashford, a player who came on out of position for Lingard on Monday and played exponentially better football. While he produces the occasional moment of excellence, like the volley that won United the FA Cup, he more often produces confusing performances, like the one on Monday. In that match, Lingard missed an open goal, failed to put a shot on target, didn’t dribble past a single player, didn’t complete any key passes and failed all crossing attempts before being substituted.
By 24, every player seems to have an edge to their game, but Lingard doesn’t, besides perhaps a good work-rate. Not a particularly good passer, with only 47% of his passes moving forward, or crosser, and with inconsistent dribbling, Lingard typically struggles to impose himself on a match. Many argue Mourinho places him on the pitch because he can perform defensively, but while he is a presence, he barely does any work to win the ball back, and he commits fouls in poor areas. Last season, struggling for an end product, Lingard only earned eight goals and five assists in 47 appearances for United. Both tactically and statistically, the problems in Lingard’s game are clear.
If that isn’t enough proof, comparing Lingard to other players in similar positions from the Premier League’s big six, born in 1992 or later, he pales. Just simply consider the following- Anthony Martial was United’s top scorer last year; Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane are both in WhoScored’s top 10 Premier League players this season; Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli have all impressed heavily for Tottenham; Raheem Sterling was the Premier League Player of the Month in September. Leroy Sane and Alex Iwobi are comparable to Lingard this season, but both are four full years younger. If anything, consider the following- Lingard, seemingly immature, is a year older than Paul Pogba, who seems to be carrying United at the moment.
The solution isn’t that Lingard needs to leave United, but he has a long way to go before he can be considered “the type of player every side needs”. Tactically, Lingard lacks in purpose, and his finishing has cost United on a few occasions. There are other players in the squad (Martial), plus a few on loan (Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj) who have not received the same opportunities to be successful. Lingard is developmentally behind the players in his age bracket in the other top sides in the league. Of course, these are things he can slowly improve, and then establish himself, but if his situation doesn’t change, perhaps his critics were right.
United could do with a proper winger in the squad, and someone would have to make way to add that player. It is a testament to the substandard qualities of Memphis and Lingard that Rashford has been converted into a winger this season. The difference between Memphis and Lingard is that the latter seems to be willing to make the right changes to improve, but he needs to start taking action and proving he can be the player United needs him to be. After all, he isn’t a youngster anymore.