England manager Gareth Southgate has acknowledged Jesse Lingard faces an uphill task to break into Manchester United’s side, but has backed him to embrace the challenge and earn minutes because of the number of competitions the Red Devils are involved in.
The 28-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at West Ham, where he flourished as a first-team regular. Lingard scored nine goals in 16 Premier League appearances for the Hammers, helping the club clinch a top-six finish and qualification into the Europa League.
But despite being linked with a permanent move to the capital, Lingard opted to stay at United and fight for his place – despite the signings of Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Their arrivals, coupled with the presence of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani, are likely to push Lingard further down Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s pecking order, but Southgate – speaking after the 4-0 win over Andorra – has backed him to take on the challenge of earning a place.
“We know that Jesse has got a challenge, and he knows that he has got a challenge with the quality of the attacking players at United. But they also have a lot of matches and different competitions. Hopefully he can take that challenge on,” Southgate told the press.
“He has really rebounded brilliantly in the last 12 months or so after a tough period. And he showed again today that he has got quality. It is being able to perform within a group of very talented players like we have and be able to stand out.”
Southgate also commented on criticism of Lingard’s involvement in England squads because of his lack of opportunities at United. He scored twice against Andorra, and the Three Lions boss explained that he’s a player who can always be relied on to perform well on the international stage.
“I know at times we have had a lot of criticism for including him in the squad, but he is just a player who has always played well for us,” Southgate added.
“He has always been a threat on goal, his link play is really bright. When we ask him to start wide we know he is going to come in and play those little give-and-go’s. He has real intelligence and he works so hard without the ball. From his debut he has always been a reliable player for us.”