What’s gotten into Jesse Lingard? Can he keep West Ham in the top four?

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Nicholas Mendola
·6 min read
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Jesse Lingard is the Premier League’s Man of the Moment.

The West Ham United midfielder has six goals and four assists in eight appearances on loan from Manchester United.

Yes, the same Jesse Lingard who only made the bench four times in Manchester United’s first 20 matches, the same player who managed a mere 179 cup minutes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

[ MORE: Three things we learned | Lingard’s stunner ]

He had a goal, an assist, and the pass that set up West Ham’s third goal in a 3-2 defeat of Wolves on Monday, pushing the Irons past Chelsea and into fourth place on the Premier League table.

It’s a table place he thinks is attainable, something he knows from his time at Old Trafford.

“It’s about maintaining and keeping the focus,” Lingard said after the game on Peacock Premium. “We have a tough run of fixtures but the lads are ready.”

Lingard’s 10 goal involvements are his most since his career-best season of 2017-18, when he scored 13 times with seven assists in all competitions for United.

[ MORE: The Premier League top four cheat sheet ]

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Heck, the six goals are one more than Kevin De Bruyne has produced all season in league play (though the Man City maestro has more than a few more assists).

So what’s producing this?

“Just consistency I think,” Lingard said. “Obviously I’ve not played [a lot] the last few years but to play week-in and week-out and my teammates have helped tremendously.”

It’s just amazing what this change of scenery has done for Lingard.

We’re admittedly using a small sample size here, but the improvement under Moyes is bonkers even if we water down his West Ham tenure by including his cup minutes with his parent club.

What’s different with Lingard in London?

Heading into Monday’s win, Lingard was averaging 3.95 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes this season, the best figure of his career. He’s also more than doubling his career-high for carries into the 18 per 90 (1.76).

Lingard is also averaging a career-best 155 yards of ball progression per 90, too. He is also attempting 4.26 dribbles per game and completing 2.06, waaaaaay more than his previous career highs (more on that later).

This is largely down to a few factors, both philosophical and tactical:

  • Moyes allowing his playmakers’ freedom to, well, make plays

  • Lingard being a bigger focal point of the West Ham’s attack than the ancillary piece he is and was in Manchester.

  • The Irons have done a fair bit of counterattacking to go with high pressing, two things that often wind up with Lingard holding the ball in either plenty of space, dangerous space, or both.

So… is a ‘broken’ player ‘fixed?

Improved? Very. All problems solved? Hmmm….

What’s amazing is’ how much lightning Lingard is catching in bottles, and all of the above have helped as Moyes trusts Lingard with freedom to create and take chances.

Lingard’s attempting 4.26 dribbles per game and completing 2.06. Both are career-highs, but his overall success rate is completing dribbles is just below his usual standards (nothing bad, but nothing exceptional).

He’s also scoring special goals, my own term but one you’ll understand as those that come from chances that seem either ordinary enough or especially audacious.

This happens a lot with more creative players, guys capable of conjuring the sublime, and Lingard is

Check out this graphic from Understat, which presides over his seasons in the Premier League.

Lingard is not only taking more shots-per-game than ever and his expected goals is also a bit better than his best season, but he’s also getting lucky for the first time in a half-decade.

His 3.44 xG through eight matches is 2.5 goals less than the six he’s scored, his three assists approximately 1.4 less than assists. He’s also averaging fewer key passes per 90 (1.13) than he has in three of the four previous seasons. This, too, is probably easily explained as a player given more of a role as a focal point than provider for the first time in his career.

Confidence is also huge, though the flair-happy Lingard has never lacked the arrogance to leave the tricks, flicks, and nutmeg bids at home.

So while the questions regarding Lingard’s future are numerous, there’s one big question that surpasses all others: Is his team willing to make him a key part of the attack?

Because it’s working right now. And we imagine the player is loving it.

That said, he’ll want to know Antonio is up-and-running following an injury scare on Monday.

Moyes is hopeful.

“[Antonio] felt his hamstring, but he doesn’t feel too bad now,” Moyes said. “We are not sure yet, we will assess it tomorrow, we will check it tomorrow and see what it is.”

Can Lingard keep it up and carry the Irons into the top four?

The answer to the first part of the question is yes and the second part has been complicated by the long-term injury to Declan Rice.

England international teammate Rice is West Ham’s best player and one of the most complete midfielders in the Premier League.

Losing him shakes up the Irons’ middle and they may need more than what Lingard can provide in order to maintain their place in the top four.

West Ham has a soft enough schedule to finish fourth even if it loses its three toughest fixtures (Leicester, Chelsea, and Everton, all at home) if it can beat the teams below them.

The Irons are already settled in for what will be their best Premier League season yet, having only broken the 60-point barrier once. That came in 2015-16, when Slaven Bilic led them to 62 points and seventh place (West Ham finished in fifth in 1998-99, but 57 points did the trick.

The Irons will need closer to 70 points to finish in the top four, though, so they’ll need both their best-ever point total and their best-ever placement in the PL era. Easy peasy.

if Moyes does that he should be PL Manager of the Year even considering what Pep Guardiola’s done in Manchester.

Follow @NicholasMendola

What’s gotten into Jesse Lingard? Can he keep West Ham in the top four? originally appeared on NBCSports.com