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Faith in ability is one thing, but is it time Solskjaer dropped Lingard?

August 30, 2019

YOU saw the recent stat about Jesse Lingard, the one which asked if the Manchester United playmaker, midfielder, wide man – do we know where his best position is? – had scored or assisted in the last 12 months of league football. In 11 of those twelve months, the answer was no. The exception was December 2018 when he netted four and made two assists.

The internet likes definites over nuance, and the stat ignores Lingard scoring the winner on an epic FA Cup night at Arsenal in January. But that was his last United goal and the point is irrefutable: he’s not doing enough. And this leaves him open to going viral for his lack of contributions rather than his dancing or celebrations. Another tweet which went viral stated that Adam Johnson has more assists in the league than Lingard in the past six seasons – despite being in prison for three years.

Attacking players are supposed to assist and score. In mitigation Lingard has operated as a playmaker, a crucial role. He’s also been playing in a side which struggled to score and he hasn’t always helped himself. Be it him – or rather someone working for him – adding his JLingz logo to a tribute to the Manchester Arena bomb or tweeting about computer game during a memorial for the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, he’s not helping himself.

Lingard’s ‘bean, beans, beans’ social media posts from a South Beach (Miami, not Blackpool) hotel in the summer were cringe-worthy for a 26-year-old, especially as they came when United fans were already cringing at how bad the end of the season was.

That said, my 12-year-old brother loved them, just as he loved Lingard’s dances and flute. However, that’s when Lingard was scoring spectacular goals. The academy graduate sure divides opinions among fans, but my brother doesn’t pick the United team and Solskjaer thought differently.

Lingard’s stock has fallen like the pound this year. It happens to footballers and doesn’t necessarily mean they should be sold or cast as deadwood. United would have no players left if they listened to the consensus view of fans on that score, but Lingard must do more – much more – if he’s to have a future at Old Trafford.

His future looked bright when he broke into the first team under Louis van Gaal at 22. He scored the winning goal in the 2016 FA Cup final and Jose Mourinho believed in him, starting him in 28 league games in his first season and 30 in his second, though he started only one of 13 games at the start of 2017-18. Then he came good again. He scored and assisted in a 4-2 win at Watford, he scored twice at Arsenal in a win which marked the high point of Mourinho’s management in the league. At the start of December ’17, it looked like United were getting back to their best…then City outclassed them at Old Trafford. But that month was a good one for Lingard, who scored more on his way to 13 goals and seven assists that season. He hasn’t managed half those goals in any of his other four seasons in the first team.

Last season didn’t happen for him. His start was delayed after resting following a decent World Cup, he got injured, he had another good December, the month Mourinho lost his job. Half of Lingard’s goals and all of his assists came in the honeymoon period of Solskjaer’s first eight games as the new manager. Four goals in 27 league games last season wasn’t enough.

Jordi Cruyff, another attacking former United who struggled more often than not, used to say that he was like a bear in that he came out to play in the summer but hibernated in the winter. Lingard is the opposite, a man like Father Christmas who has his best moment in December.

Lingard works hard, he fits into Solskjaer’s high energy, high pressing ideas and has started all three games so far, but he’s not doing enough and has come off in all three. He was poor at Wolves last week and in the home defeat to Crystal Palace too. He’s 27 in December, he should be in his prime, but fans don’t even know what his best position is.

Those who know him speak of a decent lad, but whether they want them playing ahead of the midfield in Manchester United’s team is another issue.

But what else does United do? Play Pogba there, where his skills would be surely more suited than as a holding midfielder? Pogba should continue to be supported by United fans at present after the racist abuse he suffered last week and the idiotic ‘Pogba Out’ graffiti at Carrington. The empty vessels are making the most noise right now.

Alexis Sanchez has joined United’s Italian exodus, but while there are concerns of United’s midfield, there are only a few other options for Solskjaer in Lingard’s playmaker role. Those are Juan Mata and then youngsters Tahith Chong, 19 Angel Gomes, 18 or even Mason Greenwood, the 17-year-old who replaced Lingard against Palace after only 51 minutes. It was a popular decision. Lingard has become the front runner to be team’s latest scapegoat – and sadly some fans need one.

Andreas Pereira is another option. He started in the role behind the three forwards in the opening win against Chelsea, but there’s hardly a clamour for him to start matches either.

It will be interesting to see if Solskjaer keeps faith with Lingard in the next game against Southampton, already a must-win as Liverpool and Manchester City start as they left off last May.