West Ham fans were already well aware of what Jesse Lingard could do before the 28-year-old netted a late winner against David Moyes’ side for Manchester United on Sunday. Of course, Lingard provided more than a few of these match-deciding moments for the Hammers last season.
Now back at parent club United, Lingard is proving himself as a valuable member of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad. His stunning winner against West Ham came just one week after he found the back of the net in a 4-1 win over Newcastle United with the Old Trafford club now sitting joint-top of the Premier League in no small part due to Lingard’s contribution.
Lingard was also at fault for the damaging Champions League defeat suffered to Young Boys, with the 28-year-old’s sloppy back pass pounced on in stoppage time, but his impact off the bench just days later at the London Stadium was a better reflection of what he can offer Manchester United.
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This is in stark contrast to Jadon Sancho’s offering over the early part of the season. Solskjaer introduced Sancho off the bench against West Ham at the same time as Lingard, but while the latter made a match-winning difference, the former struggled to impose himself. The final 17 minutes passed him by just like almost every match so far this season.
Signed for £73m to bring even more cutting edge to Manchester United’s attack, Sancho has been a shadow of the player who notched 50 goals and 64 assists in just 137 appearances for Borussia Dortmund. Dropped from the team that lost to Young Boys, the 21-year-old has been a peripheral figure.
At the time of Sancho’s arrival at Old Trafford, it appeared that Lingard might be forced out of Manchester United as a consequence. Now, though, it’s clear Lingard is a better fit for Solskjaer’s side than the £73m winger signed to be his replacement. If Solskjaer has to pick one over the other, Lingard deserves the nod.
At his best, Sancho is one of the most devastating wide men in the European game. He is capable of stretching the pitch on the break in a matter of seconds, but so much of his play in the final third is about constructing passing triangles to create openings and Manchester United don’t do much of this. Solskjaer might have signed Sancho to address this, but it’s impossible to form triangles with just one corner.
Solskjaer has previously spoken about his desire to have a fluid, interchangeable frontline much like the one that achieved so much success at United between 2007 and 2009 - Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. This goes some way to explaining why he prioritised the signing of Sancho, who can play on the left or right.
The problem is that Solskjaer seems reluctant to use Sancho on the right, where there is a width deficiency, while on the left side the onus is on Luke Shaw to break to the byline. This sees Sancho forced to cut inside where he is frequently faced with a lack of options ahead of him.
This wouldn’t be such an issue if Manchester United had the ability to play through low defensive blocks, but in this scenario they frequently rely on a moment of brilliance from in front of the opposition backline and this is where Lingard, not afraid to get an early shot away, produces his best work.
“Mistakes happen in football, you have to overcome those things,” Lingard said after the win over West Ham, reflecting on a whirlwind week. “I've been working hard to overcome last week. It wasn't easy but to get some minutes today and score was brilliant.” The biggest turnaround Lingard has completed recently, though, concerns his Manchester United career and how that has impacted on Sancho.
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