With Anthony Martial missing Manchester United’s Europa League game in opposition to LASK, the Nigerian could be key for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
When Odion Ighalo’s name began filtering through on January transfer closing date day – with just a few hours till the window closed – many puzzled what Manchester United have been thinking.
Former professionals and pundits slammed the decision to bring in the former Watford striker on loan till the end of the season and debated why a 30-year-old, who had not played a minute of soccer for almost eight weeks and had been plying his trade in China since 2017, was making a go to Old Trafford.
The move was considered inside the club as a vital switch that made sense to strive and fill the void left by Marcus Rashford, who is sidelined with a lower back injury, as United strive to impenetrable a top-four place in the Premier League and progress in the cup competitions.
The thinking was that a six-month loan move represented excellent price for a player with Premier League experience and the ahead is already proving his worth.
With seven appearances, along with two starts, and three goals, the on-loan centre forward has already made an impact. Those fans who had been unsure of the arrival of the former Nigeria international will have been heartened by his behaviour each on and off the pitch.
It has been no secret that Ighalo is a lifelong fan. He celebrated on the touchline all through United’s league win over Chelsea last month, as Harry Maguire’s header doubled the lead to impenetrable an essential three points, and similarly endeared himself to the United faithful as well as his manager.
The Norwegian has regularly spoken about the mentality of his players and the significance of ‘getting it’ and there can be no doubt that Ighalo has that spark Solskjaer is after.
He only made a seven-minute cameo in United’s Manchester derby victory at Old Trafford on Sunday however he left an instantaneous influence with two recoveries, over eighty three per cent passing accuracy and a clever flick that led to Scott McTominay’s goal.
He was strong, determined and his work rate was imperious. If his previous six appearances had not justified the deadline day move these few minutes vindicated why United were right to make that last-minute loan deal with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua.
Solskjaer has already spoken about the opportunity of making Ighalo’s move a permanent one however the forward has the chance to ensure cult hero reputation before his loan spell ends in the summer.
With Anthony Martial ruled out of the Europa League final sixteen first-leg clash in opposition to Austrian side LASK on Thursday night – with the knock he picked up when he slid into the post in opposition to Manchester City on Sunday – it should pave the way for Ighalo’s third start. He has managed three goals on his previous two begins in opposition to Club Brugge and Derby and will be itching to add to his tally in Linz.
United go into the two-legged knockout tie as favourites however it won’t be an easy challenge in spite of Solskjaer’s side presently being in nice form and on a 10-game unbeaten run, their longest considering the ex-striker first took the reins. LASK sit down six points clear at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga and have conceded simply eleven goals in all competitions this year.
United are the superior side however want to be composed if they are to take an advantage back to Old Trafford for the 2nd leg next week and Ighalo should be key to that.
In the group stage game towards AZ in October, another game United have been closely backed to win, they failed to muster a shot on target. Things have accelerated since then however that drab night will serve as a reminder to Solskjaer and his team of workers going into Thursday night’s fixture.
Ighalo has already proven a composure in the front of goal that was missing at some point of that group stage game. Against Derby, on his second start for the club, he was clinical. Four shots, three on goal and two goals. Any striker in any league in the world would take that strike rate.
His work ethic and passion to be successful in addition to his character and club allegiance have already made Ighalo a firm favorite for fans.
But, if he can show to be instrumental in the remaining few games of this season’s Europa League campaign and helped secure Champions League soccer for subsequent season, the striker, who used to spend his lunch cash looking at United, could write himself into the records books for good.