With Champions League football secured, Manchester United are looking towards building a squad that can now compete for titles and trophies.
Following their win over Leicester on the final day, United finished 3rd in the Premier League but it was the 7th time in eight games that Ole Gunnar Solskjær had selected the same front six from the start.
The small drop in form towards the end of the campaign identified the clear issues the club currently have though. They have no quality in depth in attacking positions. In central midfield, United have Fred and Scott McTominay to come in for first-choice duo Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, which means a huge drop in quality if someone is unavailable. The same can be said for the more attacking positions in the squad.
Bruno Fernandes’ signing in January gave a huge boost of quality to the side, with the alternatives to him being Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard. On the wings, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are covered by Daniel James and Juan Mata while up front it’s a choice between Anthony Martial or Odion Ighalo.
Links to Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Marcus Edwards and Donny Van de Beek are all clearly looking to address those issues. But now there is a question mark over Jesse Lingard’s influence off the field.
The England international came on as a substitute in the final game of the season and when he tackled Kasper Schmeichel to roll the ball into an empty net in the 98th minute, it was the first time he’d scored a Premier League goal since December 2018, in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first game as manager.
The reaction of the rest of the squad was telling too. Timothy Fosu-Mensah sprinted from the complete opposite corner of the pitch to celebrate with Lingard. Even David De Gea joined in the celebrations and could be seen having a bit of a moment with him following the goal.
At 27 years old, Jesse Lingard is at a point in his career where he’s probably not going to improve greatly as a player. But he also has a tonne of experience that can lend a hand to the younger players at the club. He’s scored in two cup finals for the club after coming through the academy, scored goals against Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal in important games and has played in Europe countless times. Not to mention he has played for England at a World Cup.
It’s also definitely not a coincidence that every time an academy player comes through into the first-team, they seem to name-check Lingard as a player who has helped make the transition better for them.
While he’s quite clearly not the level required for United, Solskjær has made no secret of the fact that he expects and demands a certain character from players in the squad too. It’s not all about ability, it’s also about personality. If Lingard is willing to be back-up and play here and there, he could be an asset to the side as a member of the squad. If he is intent on playing as much as possible, probably rightly so, then it’s time for him to leave.