After the departures of Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku last summer, Manchester United appeared to be a little short in the attacking department.
Anthony Martial moved into a centre forward role, Marcus Rashford settled in on the left side of the attack, and Daniel James arrived from Swansea City to occupy the right flank until the emergence of Mason Greenwood.
Depth across the front line remained problematic, though.
The six-month loan deal was largely ridiculed. Ighalo’s only Premier League experience had come with Watford and he had not played in a top European league since he departed for China in 2017.
Despite this, the Nigerian proved hugely valuable. He stepped in for Martial in Europa League matches, scored goals in the FA Cup, and extended his stay until January 2021 to ensure United had cover in attack.
Nevertheless, while Ighalo has undoubtedly been useful at Old Trafford, it would be naïve for the Reds to navigate an entire season with the Nigerian as their second-choice forward.
Where Manchester City have Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero and Chelsea have Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner, United are relying on a 31-year-old former Watford striker to complement their frontline.
The disparity in quality between the starting and reserve options is illustrated by Solskjaer’s selection decisions.
In the latter stages of last season, he rarely rotated, pushing his players to the brink of exhaustion. He consistently waited to make his substitutions, understanding that whoever he brought in represented a drop in attacking threat.
United, then, need a second-choice striker of calibre, quality, and with a proven goal scoring record, someone who can perform in Martial’s stead throughout an arduous and unique season.
With this in mind, United signed free agent Edinson Cavani, who left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season after his contract expired.
Cavani is now 33-years-old and was not a regular starter for PSG last term following the arrival of Mauro Icardi with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe operating as the French club’s other key attacking pieces.
However, the Uruguayan arrives at Old Trafford with a reputation and history that suggests he could be the ideal deputy for Martial.
First and foremost, Cavani is a proven goalscorer. In his last four Ligue 1 campaigns, he struck 85 times in 103 matches. That is an impressive record, one that if he could maintain would be invaluable for United.
Dig a little deeper, though, and the numbers are even more eye-catching.
Cavani scored only four league goals in 14 appearances last term, but across those 14 games, he played only 609 minutes. That yields a goal every 152 minutes.
Martial struck 17 goals in 2,640 minutes last term, a goal every 155.29 minutes. Cavani, then, netted at the same rate as Martial, who enjoyed his best season since moving to Old Trafford in 2015.
Ighalo, in contrast, made 11 Premier League appearances in 2019/20, totalling 90 minutes, and did not score a single goal.
He did notch five times in 539 minutes across the FA Cup and Europa League, but you would expect a striker of Cavani’s calibre and experience to match that rate against lesser opponents.
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Cavani is also a far more polished forward than Ighalo.
Even at 33, his movement off the ball is exceptional. He has often been criticised for his wayward finishing, but he creates opportunities for himself thanks to his awareness and anticipation.
The Uruguayan also works extremely hard out of possession. He chases down lost causes, is a willing runner into the channels, and is a nuisance for opposing centre-backs. He never gives them a moment’s peace.
Cavani has both the frame and athleticism to hold up the ball with his back to goal, something that Ighalo does excellently, and make runs off the ball. He is a more rounded, prolific, and experienced.
Cavani’s age prohibits him from a long-term solution for United, but as back-up to Martial, he provides the Reds with that much-needed attacking quality.