England manager Gareth Southgate has defended his selection of Jesse Lingard, stressing the importance of supporting the out-of-form Manchester United attacking midfielder.
The Three Lions boss named four uncapped players in his 25-man squad for September’s Euro 2020 qualification double-header against Bulgaria and Kosovo.
Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker was an eye-catching omission from the group, while a number of onlookers questioned whether fellow World Cup semi-finalist Lingard should have made the cut.
After being rapped over the knuckles by United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the summer for a controversial social media post, the 26-year-old hit the ground running during an impressive pre-season – a level of performance that he has been unable to translate into Premier League action.
“I think you’d have to say I’ve seen him have better spells for United,” Southgate said.
“I think Ole has a young, energetic team, and I think Jesse’s pressing and the energy he brings to that has been an important part of what they’ve tried to do in the first few games.
“The inclusion of Jesse for us is partly because his form for us has always been good.
The inclusion of Jesse for us is partly because his form for us has always been good. England manager Gareth Southgate
“I know there was stats on his goals. He was only involved in four games for us last season because of injury – two starts and two off the bench.
“He scored two and had a goal disallowed when he came on in the Nations League game. He had a very good World Cup.
“When you’re selecting a team, there’s half an eye on club form but also I don’t remember a game where he’s been really poor for us.
“He has different attributes. I think for him and for everybody else, there is serious competition and if they aren’t scoring for us or they aren’t scoring for their clubs, that can make things more difficult.
“But, equally, I think it’s good that we support him at this moment, in that you could argue club-wise, he’s on the fringes and whether he should be ahead of others.
“But I don’t think there are too many that we haven’t included that should be ahead of him, and his performance for us has been very, very good.”
It would not be the first time Southgate has selected a player low in form or minutes in an attempt to boost their confidence and show his belief.
But Lingard does not have to look far to see how the England manager is willing to make striking changes to his squad.
There are plenty of youngsters pushing into the team right now and Southgate is having to balance the desire for progress with preparing for a tilt at Euro 2020.
“I think there are a few positions that if you played tomorrow, you’d know who the number one was,” Southgate said.
“And there are other positions where that’s a little bit less clear.
“If you’d said to me in September of the World Cup year that (Harry) Maguire was going to be the standout centre-back, we would’ve said ‘we like him but we’re not certain on that’.
“So, that can change as the year goes on. Form fluctuates, and when we got to March, we thought Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] was probably going to be regular in the team, then we lost him.
“One of the downfalls, I think, when I was a player was that we’d lose a key player and it’d be a disaster and there was no replacement and (there’d be) huge negativity.
“I think the good thing is, if we lost… there are some players you’d rather not lose, but I think we could adapt to anything and that’s really important.”