Fergie Time has become Jesse Time recently. Jesse Lingard has become the guarantee of late drama in Manchester United games, coming off the bench to inject quality and chaos.
He scored a fine fourth goal against Newcastle and an even better winner at West Ham. Sandwiched by his strikes came the disastrous injury-time back-pass to gift Young Boys of Bern victory against United.
If Lingard’s response five days later was a triumph of character, the same may be said of his 2021, from his transformative, potent loan spell to West Ham to his return to form and favour with England and United alike. He has been finisher in United’s recent games.
He should be the starter in another reunion with the Hammers on Wednesday. “He’ll play, of course, because we will make a few changes,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “It was quite clear that he wants to fight for his place and want to be a part of a United team he feels is going places. For me, but he is really contributing.”
It would be Lingard’s first United start since January’s FA Cup win over Watford. He has not begun a Premier League game for them since Bruno Fernandes joined in January 2020. And yet if Cristiano Ronaldo’s return threatened to demote him further down the pecking order, Lingard feels a surprise winner of United’s season so far.
As Solskjaer can testify, United can benefit from a resident super-sub. Given the galaxy of attacking talent they possess and considering that Ronaldo and Fernandes look undroppable when it matters most, Lingard could be confined to cameos.
And yet a moments player, capable of supplying the spectacular on occasion, should suit Solskjaer’s United, a side shorn of a defining style of play but placing great weight on individual inspiration.
Go back to 2016 and his brilliant winner in the FA Cup final came as a substitute. That a disproportionate share of his United goals came in major matches is a sign he can be a big-game player.
For Solskjaer, who gave Lingard his debut in United’s reserves, he was a first-game player, the scorer of a brace in the Norwegian’s managerial bow. If he fitted Solskjaer’s ethos, an attacker from the academy, he lost that spark amid problems in his personal life.
West Ham 1 Manchester United 2: player ratings
Lingard’s renaissance began at West Ham and there was a cruelty when he offered them a reminder of his catalytic prowess on Sunday. A second meeting with David Moyes’ side offers a comparison with Nikola Vlasic, the player the Hammers eventually signed to fill the Lingard void.
The Croatian was named the Russian Premier League’s player of the year last season but felt West Ham’s second choice; rather than seeking a summer transfer to a club where he excelled on loan, Lingard backed himself to succeed at Old Trafford.
That was in a pre-Ronaldo environment. Thus far, he, Mason Greenwood and Paul Pogba have shown rather better form than Anthony Martial or Jadon Sancho. The competition for places will extend to Marcus Rashford, when he is fit again, while Edinson Cavani could make his first appearance of the season tonight.
It has largely escaped notice that Juan Mata, who Moyes made United’s record signing in 2014, is yet to play a minute this season, despite being on the bench for all six games.
Mata’s deal expires next summer. So does Lingard’s but despite the possibility of a lucrative free transfer, his departure feels less of a formality. “He’s a red, through and through,” Solskjaer argued last week. With the bounce back in his stride, with his irrepressible streak apparent again, Lingard is staking a case to remain one.