JESS TO IMPRESS: THE REINVIGORATED JESSE LINGARD
Loan spells in football tend to come about through one of three ways – a younger player can move to a lower-level club for valuable experience and minutes, a slightly out of favour established player can come in and not quite hit the ground running and ultimately struggle, or you can have a heavily out of favour player who re-ignites his football career – and that can also now be known as ‘The Jesse Lingard’.
On transfer deadline day, Jesse Lingard completed a loan move from Manchester United to West Ham United in a deal that understandably caught some by surprise. The Hammers seemed content in that area of the pitch after signing Said Benrahma from Brentford in the summer but David Moyes clearly wanted another option to add to his squad.
After just a few days training with his new club, Lingard was thrusted straight into the starting line-up by Moyes for the difficult trip to over-achieving Aston Villa. And yet despite not playing a single minute of Premier League football since last July, Lingard was by far the best player on the pitch.
His tantalizing build-up play with Michail Antonio was prevalent from the first whistle, his determined running and ability to pick up small pockets of spaces caused Villa major problems in the first half, but that was just the beginning.
In the second 45, Lingard found the back of the net twice and helped West Ham on their way to an impressive 3-1 win. It could be argued that Emi Martinez could’ve done better with both goals but that should take nothing away from the finishes.
It was the eager and willing 35-yard sprint before his first goal that is most impressive, considering he was starting a league game for the first time since New Year’s Day of 2020, making a gut-busting run forward like that is highly commendable.
In West Ham’s next game, Lingard struggled to have a significant impact in what was a rather dull affair against Fulham. The 28-year-old then couldn’t play in the Hammers next game in the FA Cup as it was against his parent club Manchester United, who he had already played for in the previous round.
And while Lingard understandably would be disappointed that he couldn’t play, it allowed the English midfielder nine days to rest, train and recover ahead of West Ham’s next league game against Sheffield United on Monday.
Without Antonio for the game, it was always going to be a bigger challenge for West Ham to adapt their attacking game to suit playing without a recognised striker. But, by deploying Lingard with Jarrod Bowen and Manuel Lanzini in a forward triangle shape where all three could interchange the Blades just couldn’t cope.
It was Lingard’s direct running that caused problems and as soon as Declan Rice or Tomas Soucek won possession in the midfield, they would look for Lingard instantly and he would never back away from dribbling forward with the ball, for him it was always about moving up the pitch and choosing the right moment to pass or shoot.
Lingard combined with Bowen to earn West Ham their first penalty of the season and showed the confidence to, despite not being the designated penalty taker, he grabbed the ball and wanted to take it, but Rice did eventually over-power him as the chosen spot kick taker.
While it would’ve been easy to assume that Lingard would eventually run out of steam in the second half through his constant energy and pressing, he simply didn’t. Up until the 82nd minute, Lingard was still running round as if the game had just started.
Lingard had 61 touches, the most of any attacking player on the pitch and completed the most dribbles (3) of any player at the London Stadium earlier this week.
While the man on-loan from United has racked up three goal contributions in his three appearances, what most have been impressed with is his off-the ball movement.
Lingard is playing with a hunger and desire that we hadn’t seen for some time at United, he seems interested and enthralled and he is playing with absolutely no fear, high on confidence and adrenaline – playing as though he is a kid.
There have been talks of a potential late call-up to the England squad and while his performances merit that, there are at least four or five players in that position who have been putting in those performances all season.
However, Gareth Southgate is one to use players he trusts and after Lingard’s impressive displays in the 2018 World Cup, he could be in with a shout of a spot on the plane to Euro 2021.
Looking further down the line beyond this summer’s tournament, if Lingard continues the way he’s going there’s no reason why he can’t challenge for a spot in the future of the England squad, but it could be argued his time has to be now as all the players he’d be challenging are younger than him.
West Ham have the services of Lingard until the end of the season and he’s already shown how big a part he will play in a bid to get the Hammers back in European football. When his loan expires, I would expect West Ham to possibly move in permanently as Bruno Fernandes currently occupies the same position Lingard would want at United, and it’s unlikely the Portuguese playmaker’s spot in the team is under threat.
Lingard has shown how good he can still be when he gets regular first team football and to really return to his best consistently, he needs a permanent move away from Old Trafford and if all goes well for the remaining months of his loan, West Ham seems like the perfect place to completely re-ignite his career.