The half-life of a good performance in the Premier League is mysterious thing.
Some players can leverage a good display into a free ride for quite a while; some barely get the leeway of one poor game before the critics re-emerge.
On that basis, if we look at Manchester United's 2018-19 campaign, the rollercoaster ride that was December is notable for the fact it featured all of Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera's goals and assists from last season.
The only other Premier League player who compares, in terms of enjoying just one truly productive month, is Jordan Henderson, in April, but the Liverpool captain can point to pivotal performances in the Champions League in May, which led to him lifting the trophy in June.
With that in mind, a torrid evening against Wolves on Monday was badly timed, largely because Monday Night Football lends itself to forensic studies of a player's performance in the Sky Sports studios.
Lingard failed to have a shot or create a chance at Molineux, which is rarely a good look, but he did have the best pass completion rate of any player in United’s midfield or attack.
Subtleties like that, though, may not placate fans reared on raw output, but coaches notice it; coaches notice everything.
Did Jesse Lingard score or assist a PL goal?— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) August 19, 2019
May 2018: no
Aug 2018: no
Sep 2018: no
Oct 2018: no
Nov 2018: no
Dec 2018: YES (4G 2A)
Jan 2019: no
Feb 2019: no
Mar 2019: no
Apr 2019: no
May 2019: no
Aug 2019: no pic.twitter.com/YGP1XOAIOg
If a tree falls over and nobody's there to hear it, does it make a noise? Hard to say, frankly, but if a player gets into good positions and helps others get into similarly productive areas, should he keep his place in the team?
Lingard’s Expected Goals (xG) figure since the start of last season is 4.7, so given he has netted just four times, he is underperforming, especially when you consider positional rival Juan Mata’s three goals from an xG of only 1.6.
In the perpetual war for popularity that is Premier League football in 2019, the lucky man outshines the worker. Homer Simpson wins; Frank Grimes does not.
Lingard’s true misfortune is to have reached the Manchester United XI in an era that can at best be described as transitional.
|Utd since Aug 2018||Expected Goals||Goals|
His total of 27 goal involvements in 113 appearances (roughly one every four games) is not wildly inferior to that of Paul Scholes (one every three games) but it does help you identify the players who probably didn’t get enough credit at the time.
Nani is the best case in point. Seen as a sort of stopgap Cristiano Ronaldo imitation device, the winger's record of 69 goals/assists in 147 appearances (one every 2.1 games on average) would make him an absolute superstar in the current United team.
A glance further back at players such as Ronaldo himself (a goal involvement every 1.7 games), David Beckham (one every 1.9 games) and Ryan Giggs (one every 2.3 games over a Premier League career that lasted more than 600 matches) only reinforces the point.
Lingard’s magnified spell without a goal or assist will surely end soon. But even if it doesn't, the work-rate and application that has earned him the faith of a succession of United bosses, as well as England manager Gareth Southgate, will grant him more opportunities, whether you like it or not.