Manchester United fans left Old Trafford with mixed feelings on Boxing Day following their 2-2 draw with Burnley.
They could rightly be disappointed over dropping points once again this festive period but could also have some relief that they hadn’t lost the game, having gone 2-0 down in the first half.
United supporters also have mixed feelings on the scorer of both goals, Jesse Lingard.
Those who don’t rate him will be quick to downplay the fact he grew up supporting United, joined the club when he was seven and has scored goals that enabled United to win two Wembley finals. That’s irrelevant to them.
Those who support him have spent much of the season talking about how much better the team plays when he is on the pitch. He might not always have the greatest of games but his movement allows for the other forwards to shine and his pace enables United to attack at speed. Yet this still wasn’t enough for the United fans who don’t think believe he’s capable of playing at the level the club requires.
On Tuesday, however, it was Lingard who salvaged the point for his team. Coming on at half-time for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lingard scored two quality goals.
The first was a perfectly placed backheel and the second showed his quick reactions to snatch at a loose ball just inside the box and fire past Nick Pope. The result wasn’t a good one for United but it was better than it otherwise would have been if not for Lingard.
In the past three weeks, he has been in fantastic form.
He scored the goal that put United’s win against Watford beyond doubt after the home team started to claw their way back in to the game. He also scored twice at the Emirates to earn a 3-1 win over Arsenal, before scoring the crucial second goal in his side’s 2-1 win against West Brom.
Still, there are Reds who aren’t happy to have him in their squad, maintaining that he’s not good enough to play for United.
However, when you look at his contribution in the Premier League, it’s hard to support that claim.
With six goals and four assists this season, he’s outscored several world class players, while averaging a goal or assist every 75 minutes he’s been on the pitch.
Compare that with Eden Hazard, with five goals and two assists, an average of one every 160 minutes he’s played. Or Alexis Sanchez with five goals and three assists: one every 155 minutes. Or Mesut Ozil with four goals and five assists: one every 142 minutes.
The most remarkable comparison of the lot is between Lingard and Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester City man will likely be named player of the year at the end of this season, yet he’s scored the same number of goals as Lingard and provided just four more assists, despite more than double the playing time. De Bruyne averages a goal or assist every 116 minutes.
Obviously this doesn’t suggest that Lingard is better than De Bruyne, just that the Warrington-born attacker is doing a decent job this season. When played in his preferred no.10 role, he often does well.
Had Jose Mourinho opted to start Lingard instead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United may well have beaten Burnley.
If Lingard was rubbish, sentimentality wouldn’t be reason enough to keep him around.
But he is clearly having a positive impact on United’s season.
Sadly, criticism of the academy graduate has become a bit of a sport in some quarters. He dances when he scores, earns a lot of money and posts videos on social media, which apparently means the game has gone, and therefore Lingard isn’t deserving of respect from his own fans.
Lingard isn’t world class and never will be. But he’s a handy squad player whose desire to prove his worth at his boyhood club gives him something extra on the field. While some will argue United could do a lot better, they could also do a lot worse. As an option to have off the bench, someone who scores and assists as many goals as he is doing this season, Lingard is well worth his place at the club.