On 2020’s first deadline day, Odion Ighalo signed for Manchester United on a 6 month loan with an option to buy. A lifelong Manchester United fan, Ighalo’s arrival adds another attacking option for Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær and the Nigerian international could prove to be an important addition.
A penalty box striker, Ighalo is exactly the type of striker Manchester United need. In the 4-2-3-1 formation which Ole Gunnar Solskjær has favoured this season, Ighalo would slot straight in up front.
Ighalo scores the majority of his goals by making runs off the back of the last line, before being slipped through by his teammates. Although not a pacey striker like Jamie Vardy or Aubameyang, the Nigerian striker relies on off the ball movement and the timing of his runs to get away from defenders. He seems to have the goalscoring knack of being in the right place at the right time, to finish off rebounds. Ultimately, this comes down to Ighalo being alive in the box, constantly on the move to find pockets of space where the ball could fall, or where he can nick in ahead of the defender.
The Nigerian, who is on loan from Chinese club Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, also has the strength to hold off defenders, allowing him to not only bring others into play but to buy himself time to get a shot away. Ighalo is good off both feet, an aerial threat with the strength to hold off defenders and has the movement to still break in behind teams – he is a fairly complete centre forward.
Over his career, he has gained essential game intelligence. This not only helps him take up smart, attacking positions, but sees bim press well, using his body positioning to funnel opponents down a flank where his teammates can engage and overload a flank, as seen in Nigeria’s recent 3-2 win over Cameroon.
With all this considered, it makes sense that Odion Ighalo was brought in. His suitability to pressing means he doesn’t break, but improves, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s high turnover system. Ighalo’s movement and strength can not only allow him to be the focal point of Man Utd’s attack but give the Reds a target to hit with his back to goal and a constant threat for through balls – something which should see him link well with Bruno Fernandes.
Ighalo’s arrival will also allow Anthony Martial to return to the left wing. Despite many insisting that Martial is a centre forward, his skills make him an ideal inside forward. When playing as a striker this season, Martial has also shown that he tends to prefer to drift wide in search of the ball, rather than leading the line. Shifting him to the left would give him a more free role with Ighalo leading the line. Furthermore, in Solskjær’s 4-2-3-1, the left winger tends to operate closer to the striker than the touchline, which will give Anthony Martial the best of both worlds, operating close enough to the goal whilst giving him the freedom to drift laterally.
Playing with a strike partner will suit Ighalo. His best Premier League season for Watford in 2015/16, when he played in a strike pairing with Troy Deeney, saw him score 15 goals and register 3 assists in 37 appearances.
For Manchester United, the closeness to Anthony Martial on the left will allow Ighalo to give the Frenchman the ball, before making intelligent runs to either directly get in behind or create space for Martial to exploit. Alternatively, it could see Solskjær switch to a two striker system for the remainder of the season.
It’s important not to expect too much from the arrival of Odion Ighlao. The Nigerian has been brought in as an emergency reinforcement from the Chinese Super League, which isn’t played at the highest quality. However, there is hope. Although Ighalo’s penalty box style of play means he can’t run games on his own, the former Watford player has scored most of his goals for Nigeria since moving to China, finishing as the 2019 AFCON top scorer, with five goals. We’ve also seen Paulinho at Barcelona and Axel Witsel at Dortmund return to Europe from the CSL and perform excellently in the Champions League.
Signing Ighalo on a loan deal with an option to buy is a very low risk move with potentially huge rewards.
What do you think? Will Odion Ighalo be a success at Manchester United?