Sun. Sep 27th, 2020

Man Utd


The plan Solskjaer should have for Man United striker Odion Ighalo this season

4 min read

Manchester United’s 2-1 win against LASK Linz in August might well have been the most meaningless game of football played last season.

United held a 5-0 aggregate lead from the first leg against a side who had blown the Austrian title since returning from lockdown. It was no more than a tune-up game before the Europa League finale in Germany and it was played in front of an empty Old Trafford.

But it was notable for one reason. It was the first time Odion Ighalo had started a game for Manchester United and not scored, at the fifth time of asking.

Ighalo has been a more than reliable stand-in for Anthony Martial as United’s striker in cup competitions, but the only surprise was the lack of trust Ole Gunnar Solskjaer placed in him once the season resumed in June.

United might not have the same dynamism when Ighalo plays instead of the roaming Martial, but his record in front of goal is excellent and even as a substitute he has caused teams problems in the Premier League.

When the 2019/20 season restarted in June Ighalo’s only starts came in the FA Cup quarter-final at Norwich, where he scored with a sharp turn and finish, and then against LASK. In his nine substitute appearances he was given a combined 79 minutes and never came on earlier than the 78th minute.

The extension of Ighalo’s loan from Shanghai Shenhua was only ever a stop-gap measure until the end of January, but his performances since arriving at the end of January this year warrant more time on the pitch. Solskjaer’s refusal to rest his front three earlier in games contributed to their tiredness towards the end of last season.

Some of those involved fixtures when United were chasing a result, and others when the game was won and he could have been given more of a run-out. Ighalo got just 11 minutes in the FA Cup defeat against Chelsea and then just five minutes in the Old Trafford draw with West Ham.

As United struggled to break down FC Copenhagen in Cologne he wasn’t used at all and after Sevilla had taken a 78th-minute lead in the Europa League semi-final, Ighalo didn’t come on until the final minute.

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There’s no doubt a fit Martial offers more of a goal threat to United, but there is a balance to be struck when the Frenchman is tiring and Ighalo is fresh. The Nigerian deserves more trust this season, either to influence tight games or to come on early if the match looks won.

He has looked a threat in brief cameos in the Premier League, noticeable before lockdown when he should have scored against Chelsea and Everton. He might not have scored in the Old Trafford win against Manchester City, but it was a masterclass in helping a team see out a game from a centre forward.

The 31-year has done nothing wrong in his United career so far and the boyhood Red is clearly loving life at Old Trafford. It will be a travesty if he doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to a full stadium before his loan ends in the New Year.

But before then he still has time to continue making an impact. He is a certain starter for next week’s Carabao Cup third-round tie and with the games coming thick and fast should see more action from the bench in the league as well.

Ighalo has shown he might be the most ruthless of United’s centre forward options. For that reason he can be more of an impact sub this season than he was towards the end of last term, even if the reduction to three substitutes rather than five limits Solskjaer’s options from the bench.

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