Football statistics analysts WhoScored.com chart the rise of a talented Manchester United player and look at what the academy graduate offers. Take a look at WhoScored’s Manchester United page and read on for their take on Jesse Lingard…
Having been labelled as an FA ‘yes man’, there must have been some temptation for Gareth Southgate to make sweeping changes to his first squad as the senior England manager. Promoted from his position with the England Under-21s, Southgate has four games to prove his credentials to the Football Association should he want the job full time, starting against Malta on Saturday.
Manchester United teenager Marcus Rashford was recalled after dazzling on his debut under the management of Southgate for the U21s at the start of last month, but it’s perhaps his club teammate, Jesse Lingard, who is the most surprising member of Southgate’s 23-man squad.
Since making his debut for the England U21s in August 2013, Lingard has been forced to watch a steady stream of players bridge the gap to the senior squad without every really being on the cusp of making it himself. Jack Butland, John Stones, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling were all part of the side that beat Scotland 6-0 on Lingard’s debut, but while their path into the senior set-up has continued, Lingard’s international career hit a brick wall after the European U21 Championship in 2015.
His United career looked to be heading that way too. First of all when he suffered a serious knee injury 24 minutes into the opening weekend of the 2014/15 campaign and then again this summer when Jose Mourinho was made United manager. Lingard was one of a number of United players that saw their future suddenly cast into doubt and a WhoScored.com rating of 6.57 from his 29 Premier League appearances isn’t one that necessarily promises a glittering career.
Any doubts over Lingard’s future under Mourinho were only heightened when the United boss hooked the 23-year-old at half-time in their Manchester derby defeat last month.
You couldn’t help but feel Lingard had blown his opportunity to impress Mourinho and would now face a long road back to the first-team. However, Saturday’s encounter against Malta will be exactly one month since Lingard’s torrid display against Manchester City and it would cap a remarkable turnaround if the versatile winger can get his first international minutes at a ground he knows only too well.
For all that is unspectacular about Lingard, he has developed a good knack of producing big moments when it matters most. This started when he scored a stunning late winner against Sweden at the European U21 Championship to record England’s first win of the tournament, and has carried on at United ever since.
Lingard not only secured United their first FA Cup trophy in 12 years when he struck a sensational volley in extra time against Crystal Palace in May, but he followed that up just a few months later with a sublime solo goal against Leicester to help win the Community Shield in Mourinho’s first game. In fact, Lingard has scored as many goals for United at Wembley as he has at Old Trafford (two).
There isn’t any real expectation that Lingard will start in either of England’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia, but Sterling’s withdrawal has certainly increased his chances of game time and he would offer Southgate an alternative option in attack.
As previously touched on, Lingard’s general play doesn’t suggest he is capable of match-winning performances. He hasn’t managed to complete a dribble in 191 minutes of league action this season and had only had one shot on target in that time.
Despite being a willing runner, Lingard is quite lightweight and that is evident in his defensive duties – he has completed one tackle and failed to make an interception in the league this season – even if there is at least a desire to help without the ball.
What’s been particularly striking about Lingard’s deployment in United’s last three matches is the freedom he has been given to play in almost any position he wants. While he drifted across the pitch under Louis van Gaal, the purpose of his movement seems more definitive and incisive this time around. Forward runs beyond Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been a common theme of United’s attacks and that looks to have brought out a side to Lingard that was restricted under the previous manager.
Lingard is creating chances (one every 27.1 minutes) at a better rate than the likes of David Silva (30.2 mins), Philippe Coutinho (30.6 mins) and Mesut Ozil (34.5 mins) in the Premier League this season, having required 118.5 minutes to register a key pass in the league prior to this season. Not only that, but Lingard has the best pass success rate of any player in those advanced midfield positions to have started at least one league game this season (91.4%).
Having scored in three successive Arsenal appearances for the first time since May 2013, Theo Walcott appears to have nailed down a start on the right on Saturday, which would leave Lingard to fight for a place on the opposite flank with the likes of Andros Townsend, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rashford.
While the aforementioned trio all possess the ability to go beyond a man with the ball, Lingard’s intelligent off-the-ball runs distinguish him and provide Southgate with another means of attack. This was perfectly demonstrated in United’s 4-1 win over Leicester, which saw Lingard take up a position in the centre of the box alongside Ibrahimovic to set-up Mata for their second.
Lingard’s ability to ensure he doesn’t just become a footnote to Southgate’s tenure hinges entirely on whether he can sustain a run in the United first-team, but for now he should be looking to enjoy this opportunity. Wembley is the only stadium in which Lingard has managed to score in consecutive appearances and he will be looking to extend that run should he be called upon on Saturday.