It finally happened. Jesse Lingard scored a goal.
The Manchester United youth product registered a goal contribution for the first time in the league this season as Manchester United secured third place and a coveted Champions League spot.
The England international - on as a substitute - dispossessed Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in added time, before slotting home into an empty net to spark jubilation among his teammates and the bench. The famous 'JLingz' celebration of course followed.
Jesse Lingard drops a heartfelt message on his Instagram ? pic.twitter.com/gLlkQC6KM9— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) July 28, 2020
That 98th minute goal was in fact the 27-year-old's first goal in the Premier League goal since December 2018, in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first game in charge of the club against his former side, Cardiff. To make matters worse, it was also the first time Lingard had directly been involved in a goal in the league since laying on an assist against Burnley in January 2019.
To put that into perspective, his United colleague Bruno Fernandes only made his debut for the club in February of this year, yet has already been involved in 15 Premier League goals - eight goals and seven assists. That staggering spell of form from the Portuguese playmaker has only served to heighten the Englishman's deficiencies and push him down the pecking order.
A few substitute appearances aside, Lingard has been noticeably absent from a number of Solskjaer's matchday squads, particularly after his shoddy display in United's eventual 2-1 victory over relegated Norwich City in the FA Cup quarter-final. When he has entered the fray it has been telling that he has often been deployed as wideman rather than in his usual or preferred attacking midfield role.
325 - Leicester finished fifth in the 2019-20 Premier League season, despite ending the day within the top four positions on 325 occasions during the campaign. Pipped. pic.twitter.com/7B9Q16WKJ6— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 26, 2020
While this is no doubt a marker of his manager's lack of trust in the player as a creative force, it perhaps illustrates his new role within the squad - a last resort wide option. As fellow academy graduates Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood continue to shine as part of United's burgeoning front three, Lingard is simply getting left behind.
His goal on Sunday may well be a welcome relief for both player and manager, but it is certainly not a sign of a new found importance to the side. The brutal truth is that if the former Brighton loanee wishes to have a future at Old Trafford, it will have to be as a sporadic squad player and someone perhaps only best utilised in certain games.
As was shown earlier this season in United's breathtaking first-half display against Manchester City at the Etihad back in December, Lingard has the expertise to be a useful asset in a counter-attacking set up. However, his ability to retain possession is questionable and leaves him unlikely to suit a more possession based United side going forward.
In the Red Devils' clash with City in January - this time in the Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg - Lingard's inability to keep the ball was laid bare, with his manager letting him know precisely what he thought of his player's performance.
Yes he may be an aide in games where United are chasing a game or where they seek to sit slightly deeper and then spring out into attack, but the United of next season and beyond is unlikely to be adopting that tactic too often.
Where does that leave him then?
Well, as has been said, he's not necessarily a deadweight in the United dressing room and nor is he a poor player, but he simply isn't the man to take the club where they need to go. He may have played a small part in securing Champions League football for his side, but he's unlikely to get much of a taste of it next season.
With the added monetary benefit of a top-four spot, United will also be likely to recruit in attacking areas, further reducing Lingard's playing time. Yes he's given United fans joy in the past - notably his FA Cup final thunderbolt - but the future Manchester United side looks to be taking shape without him.