Eyebrows were raised when West Ham United announced they had signed Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard (£5.9m) on loan for the rest of the season.
The former England international had only made three appearances for the Red Devils in the cup this season, and none in the league.
So it was a surprise to see Hammers manager David Moyes name Lingard in his starting XI for the trip to Aston Villa.
But Moyes’ gamble paid off in style, with Lingard scoring two goals and bagging a maximum bonus in his 15-point haul.
Following the game, Moyes backed his new signing to reclaim a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad if he carries on scoring goals:
“If he keeps playing as well as he did tonight and he keeps scoring goals then he’ll do a brilliant job for West Ham and if he keeps doing that he’ll get into the England squad as well.
“It was not long ago that he was an England international and I hope that he can get back to that standard and if he does he will be great for us at West Ham.”
Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers clearly liked what they saw, with Lingard being snapped up in droves before the Gameweek 23 deadline – almost 100,000 of us have acquired the loanee at the time of writing.
But can Lingard deliver more big hauls this season?
OUT OF THE TRAPS
Lingard’s first game in a West Ham shirt saw him line up centrally in a three behind lone striker Michail Antonio (£6.6m).
With Ryan Fredericks (£4.2m) tasked with doubling up on Jack Grealish and Said Benrahma (£6.0m) sticking to the left, Lingard found himself playing closely to Antonio, almost as a supporting striker.
For both goals, Lingard found himself higher up the pitch than Antonio as West Ham looked to hit Villa on the break.
Although Emiliano Martinez (£5.2m), by his own lofty standards, should have saved at least one of Lingard’s attempts, the midfielder was unlucky not to add more to his tally throughout the game.
After missing most of the season for Manchester United, there will be concerns about Lingard’s ability to play several games in a short space of time.
But Moyes sounded confident about Lingard’s fitness:
“My biggest concern was not really his all-round fitness, it was his match fitness and sharpness. I knew he had been working hard at Manchester United and training hard so I didn’t really have a great worry about that it was just his sharpness due to a lack of minutes.
“He didn’t half show he is in good form, he helped us play better and got two goals so it was a brilliant debut from him tonight.”
With Lingard ready to fire at will and games against Fulham and Sheffield United coming up, he could be adding to his goal tally very quickly.
Before making the move, Lingard had become a figure of derision at Old Trafford.
After bursting onto the scene in 2015, Lingard later became a key part of Jose Mourinho’s Man United team, earning an England call-up.
Lingard produced his best form for the club in the 2017/18 season for Mourinho, scoring eight goals and supplying as many assists.
He will also be remembered fondly by the FPL community for being one of the best budget options of the season.
But the attacking midfielder suffered a dramatic dip in form in 2019, where he failed to register a single goal or assist throughout the whole year.
And once Bruno Fernandes (£11.4m) arrived in January last year, Lingard must have known his time at the club was coming to end.
Before his loan move, Lingard even found himself unable to make Man United matchday squads this season.
Despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently saying he could have a future in Manchester, it appears that if he continues to impress, then Lingard could make his move permanent.
Lingard has joined a team bang-in form in West Ham, who are creating a healthy supply of chances for their attacking players.
Their early-season defensive displays have been turned on their head since Moyes switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Stats from their last six games show that only both Manchester clubs have scored more goals and have a better expected goals rating (xG) than West Ham.
In signing Lingard on loan, David Moyes was unable to bring in a back-up striker both he and Hammers fans felt the club needed.
With record signing Sebastian Haller being sold to Ajax, Antonio is currently their only senior striker in the squad.
And while Antonio is in superb form this season, he has a chequered injury history, missing large chunks of the last two campaigns.
Out-of-position midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko (£5.5m) played a starring striking role against Doncaster Rovers in the FA Cup.
West Ham assistant manager Alan Irvine also hinted that the Ukranian could be used as a striker more this season.
But maybe Lingard was brought in as the cover West Ham needed for Antonio.
West Ham gaffer Moyes even hinted at this when announcing the signing of Lingard:
“I actually think we could play him as a false nine if we needed that as well. He will bring me that. I’ve wanted to try and get an energetic team at the moment and I think Jesse is known for his work rate and effort and I think he’ll fit in nicely with what we’ve got.”
So should Antonio miss more game time this season, then Lingard could turn into a very promising out-of-position prospect.
All the signs from Lingard’s debut point to him being a great signing for the Hammers and an intriguing differential prospect.
If he continues having the most shots on the pitch and bursting past Antonio, then he should add many more goals to his tally.
The only lingering doubts will be, as he has previously shown, that he can go for long periods without any returns.
And then there is the stiff competition for places in behind Antonio – so we can’t say for absolute certainty whether Lingard will be a guaranteed starter every week.
But with a track record that suggests he is a confidence player and a debut that stands him in great stead for another lengthy run-out in Gameweek 23, now could be the best time to jump on the bandwagon.
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