England star Lingard offers Man Utd something different
The Red Devils boss has a myriad of attacking options to choose from this season, but can the 28-year-old force his way into the Norwegian’s plans?
The 28-year-old’s entire career can be viewed as a series of forks in the road; a never-ending journey of nearly making it, of potential without consistency.
It is the well-worn path of the academy graduate at an elite club who is not good enough to start every game, but whose emotional ties make the slightest possibility of regular football – dangled just out of reach – impossible to resist.
That pull is strong, and in Lingard’s case it seems especially unlucky that he has always hovered tantalisingly close to being a Manchester United first-team player, but remained ever-so-slightly below the required level.
It has kept him hesitating at that crossroads, unable to leave his boyhood club no matter how good the offer. A summer approach from West Ham – where Lingard excelled last season, scoring nine goals in 16 games – was reportedly turned down by the player in favour of fighting for a place at Old Trafford.
Lingard has taken a huge risk, and history suggests it will prove to be the wrong choice.
He has featured in just 133 Premier League games over seven years, and has never started more than 20 matches in a season. In other words, entering the final few years of his peak, Lingard has spent at least half of his career on the bench.
His two goals and assist in England’s 4-0 win over Andorra were well taken, indicative of a strong performance from across attacking midfield that showed Lingard’s killer instinct but also his positional intelligence and tactical dexterity.
Certainly Solskjaer could do with more players with Lingard’s capacity to shuffle across the pitch, to switch positions twice as he did at Wembley on Sunday evening.
Currently, Paul Pogba is playing regularly on the left despite his tendency to drift infield, while the rest of United’s wingers – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Martial – are more direct dribblers.
Lingard’s delicacy between the lines, characterised by an ability to float into pockets and play neat progressive passes from either flank, is unique among United’s players.