Thursday 2 January 2020

Jesse Lingard has become Manchester United's invisible man

Jesse Lingard's 2019 statistics make for reading just as grim as our first half performance last night. A man tasked with such a key role as the number 10 - the string pulling heartbeat of any attack - mustered precisely no goals and no assists in the Premier League across the last calendar year.
In such a crucial position as creator-in-chief, he offers nothing and has been MIA for far too long. He was hardly involved and I only realised he was on the pitch when his number went up just shy of the hour mark. A number ten has to set the tempo, controlling the team's attacking moves, and should be involved in creating chances through movement, passing, vision and link play. It's the single most pivotal position in the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to try and play, yet his key man is simply not good enough.

New year new hope? It would appear that's not the case as far as Lingard is concerned. The new decade started exactly as the old one had ended, with United effectively down to ten men as soon as his name appeared on the team sheet. Granted, United don't exactly have an embarrassment of riches in that position, but Andreas Pereira did more in half an hour than his colleague has managed in over a year.

Of course, there's no guarantee that we'd have got a result without Lingard at the Emirates, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a rod for his own back by selecting him when there was no logical rationale, no clear justification in doing so. It may be true that Pereira played three quarters of the match only 72 hours before at Burnley, but he was my man of the match and another start shouldn't have been too much to ask. I don't particularly rate Pereira, I think he's very limited in what he brings but he offers more than Lingard with his distribution and dead ball delivery. We looked a lot better at Arsenal when he came on, he's got two assists in as many games and was an 8/10 at Turf Moor. It looks a major selection error from Solskjaer. Our front three of Dan James, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were dead men walking waiting for service that never came. It's not his fault, but Lingard has become Manchester United's invisible man - not literally, but merely because of his contribution, or - more pertinently - his lack of it. He continues to get a free pass despite earning an extraordinary £100k a week as a liability.

Lingard was brave enough to open up about his family issues. He has had to take over parenting duties of his younger siblings - both aged 14 and 11 - due to his mother's serious illness and his grandad's struggles with cancer. I was very sorry to hear that news and fully empathise with Lingard. That's tough for anyone to deal with, it has clearly affected him and I wish him well. I hope things improve soon. He's only human, I'm sure he's a good lad at heart and no one should have to go through those problems. But the club have to take some responsibility here. If he's struggling as much as he said, then give him a break. Allow him to take a month or six weeks off to get his head together and to forget about football. Quite literally, give him a break - don't keep picking him and asking him to do a job that's beyond him. Where's the strong man management? In times like this, he needs a comforting arm around him, not the cold shoulder.
 It seems ironic that a player accused by so many of being irresponsible and not taking life seriously enough has actually been suffering on the pitch because of having too much responsibility off it.

Something has to be done. If we keep playing Lingard on a regular basis, then we have to expect more results and performances like Wednesday's.

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