Three games into the season Manchester United have a win, a draw, and a loss. In each of the matches the new look squad has shown promise as a team that wants to attack opponents. Unfortunately, it seems as though there is a lack of creativity in the middle of the attacking line, a spot occupied by Jesse Lingard. He’s shown some decent flashes as a United regular, but the fact of the matter is that he is not equipped to run the show as a no. 10. He’s also had a dreadful run of form in 2019, showing very little under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With a squad rebuild seemingly underway (albeit slowly) the question must be raised: Does Lingard have a part to play for Manchester United in the future?
Crystal Palace were expected to sit deep at Old Trafford. They crowded their defensive third of the pitch, challenged United physically, and looked for their own chances on the break. Like Wolves and Chelsea, Palace also faced a relatively simple challenge from United’s no. 10. Lingard doesn’t control matches, orchestrate chances, or even pass particularly well. He has a high work rate, and can press well with his speed and present a danger on the break, but he’s no Paul Pogba or anything. Instead, it is Pogba who is responsible for establishing a dominant presence as the team’s facilitator in attack. Moving up from his midfield position next to Scott McTominay, Pogba gets forward freely in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 setup. Even McTominay is given the freedom to venture forward. These two make up for Lingard some of the time, but the absence of a true no. 10 has made it look more like a midfield 2 rather than a triangle. Juan Mata filled in against Southampton, but it’s clear that he’s no longer the player he once was.
United’s expected goals is considerably high through the first few games, leading many to call for calm over the results, but the actual goals are hard to come by. Marcus Rashford deserves a bit of the blame for the lack of goals, but it was clear against Southampton when Pogba moved into the no. 10 role that when the machine is turning more chances come along. Lingard has played many roles in his time as a first teamer, and deserves credit for his adaptability and work ethic, but how long can he flounder in Ole’s setup? He was benched at St. Mary’s, but came in in the second half. Perhaps he’s more suited for a bench role, or as a right winger/forward, as he clearly brings nothing to the no. 10 position, but that still says a lot about United’s poor depth.
Lingard off the the bench is a popular idea that has floated around United discussion boards and comment sections for a couple seasons now. His high energy style of play and ability to provide the occasional Messi moment (though it’s been absent for a while now) make him an ideal attacking sub. Of course there is also the issue of United’s attacking corps being quite thin. Lingard may very well be one of the 3-4 best options for Solskjaer at the moment. Juan Mata is another option at 10, but Solskjaer seems to value pace in his starting 11. Mason Greenwood has been getting minutes in every match so far this season, but he’s drifted wide each time. Pogba is probably United’s best suited candidate for no. 10, but that leaves another hole in midfield. It’s a difficult time for United, and Solskjaer’s first full season as manager will include a lot of hardship with the stingy transfer policies of Ed Woodward and the Glazers.
The clearout has left United pretty bare, if they weren’t already, particularly in midfield. It’s likely that a big reason Lingard has stuck around is because of the lack of talent replacing outgoing players. The shortened transfer window has left Lingard in the strange limbo of players that could potentially be cut by Ole, but who can’t be afforded to leave at the moment.
The players that have gone were not key contributors, and needed to leave as part of the rebuild, but only 3 have arrived. The club have indicated that they are going to take their time rebuilding, which gives Lingard at least another season to prove himself, but Lingard likely won’t survive the squad purge if he carries on like he has. Despite popular belief, he’s not a young, promising player anymore. He’s 27, and if he can’t rediscover the form that established him as a first teamer, his brief run of heroics will soon be forgotten.