Manchester United’s unsung hero might finally get what he deserves – Samuel Luckhurst

Lingard has impressed despite one start for United this season


The bluenoses who filtered through Old Trafford’s south-west turnstiles knew what was coming when they saw the teams. Anthony Martial, an incongruous inclusion, would score.

Martial was without a Premier League goal as a starter since New Year’s Day but had six goals in 12 games against Everton. It is now seven in 13.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could hardly celebrate that piece of rotation when Manchester United were a Tom Davies shot away from a potential 2-1 defeat. Martial appeared to limp off before the hour and the goal was deflected, with Jordan Pickford porous at his near post.

The partial vindication came after just about everyone inside the ground, bar Solskjaer, felt Martial was undeserving of a start. That he was recalled on the left suggests the number nine’s days are numbered as the nine.

Martial’s selection was all the more baffling amid Jesse Lingard’s mini resurgence. Lingard has tallied two exceptional goals – one an 89th minute winner in United’s last league win – and his clever and deliberate assist allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to claim the glory against Villarreal. That back-pass in Bern was an aberration.

Lingard has still not started for United in the league since New Year’s Day 2020 and his only start this season was in the League Cup defeat to West Ham. He was inexplicably removed in the 72nd minute and then unused at the weekend.

Solskjaer claimed Lingard would have lined up in the league opener against Leeds but for contracting Covid-19 the previous week, yet even when Lingard was fit Daniel James was preferred at Wolves two days before his transfer to Leeds.

Sources say there is no issue between Solskjaer and Lingard, who have maintained a convivial working relationship during the most trying time of the player’s career. Some close to Lingard, who rejected United’s opening contract offer, believe he should consider his options in January if he remains on the periphery.

Lingard has impressed despite one start for United this season

Since Lingard’s forlorn evening at Arsenal on January 1 of last year, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho have entered through the Carrington glass doors. Each has posed a threat to Lingard’s place and those dancing feet of his have side-stepped all of them.

Rather than vie with Fernandes or return to the restrictive right-hand side, Lingard has taken a risk by rebranding himself as an inverted winger off the left.

If there is a club where that should be discouraged, it is United. At the start of the season, Sancho, Martial, James, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford were their wide raiders from the left. At Leicester on Saturday, the most deserving starter there would be Lingard.

Lingard has risen to the challenge back at United following his productive four-month loan with West Ham and unambitious players would have scrawled their signature on the first sheet of paper placed in front of them. It is a testament to his form Gareth Southgate included Lingard in both England squads this season despite his Premier League and Champions League playing time amounting to 64 minutes.

United never received a serious offer for Lingard in the summer and his camp sensed there was an unwillingness from United to sell a player whose official attachment to the club began when he was seven years old. Lingard celebrates his 29th birthday in December and it would be a genuine wrench for United to cut ties.

Solskjaer was misguided in overlooking Lingard as one of his game-changers off the bench in the draw with Everton and he will know by now he cannot placate a 28-year-old with benchwarming duties. Solskjaer himself practically became a regular in 2001-02, the season he turned 29.

For a manager who has form for picking players based on their past form against the upcoming opposition, Solskjaer need only research the last time Lingard scored twice in a match. It was against Leicester.

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