Has Ighalo done enough to merit Premier League start?

Odion Ighalo (25) of Manchester United celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 0-2 during the FA Cup match between Derby County and Manchester United at the Pride Park, Derby, England on 5th March 2020. (Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto)

The on-loan forward usually thrives from the off in a Manchester United shirt, a run he continued at Norwich City on Saturday

On his first start post lockdown, it was as though Odion Ighalo had never left. The on-loan Manchester United forward netted the opener in the 51st minute of the Red Devils’ FA Cup quarter-final encounter with Norwich City on Saturday, his fifth since joining on loan from Shanghai Shenhua.

The poacher’s effort at Carrow Road saw him flick home another goal on his fourth successive start for his boyhood club, in turn, making a bit of history: equalling Jimmy Hanson’s record of scoring in four competitive starts for the giants, a feat which has stood undisputed since 1925.

In matching that achievement, Ighalo’s gone one better than Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored in his first three starts against Leicester City, Bournemouth and Southampton. The ex-Nigeria star’s strikes have all, notably, come in cup competitions against Club BruggeDerby County, LASK and Norwich.

Some observers may be quick to point out the inferior quality of the Canaries, bottom of the Premier League and expected to be relegated, the chasm in class between United and Championship side Derby as well as the superiority of English football to sides in Belgium and Austria.

However, while Daniel Farke’s team aren’t world-beaters, the Rams are playoff hopefuls, have the best home record in the second division and had lost once in 17 games at Pride Park since August before both sides met in March. LASK have ended runners-up in the Austrian Bundesliga in successive seasons while the Belgian outfit were playing Champions League football months ago and nearly got a win against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Given Ighalo has shown he can come into the side to do a job in the absence of regulars, there have been calls to start him in the Premier League, with Brighton & Hove Albion being United’s next league game on Tuesday night.

While there may be some doubts as to whether the former Watford man can lead the line from the off in the Prem, the teams Ole Solskjaer’s side play in their next three games seem favourable on paper. After visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in midweek, the 13-time Prem winners play Bournemouth and Aston Villa, two of the division’s worst teams currently sat in the bottom three.

In fact, of United’s last seven games, only one comes against a side above them (Leicester on the final day) with six fixtures seeing them face off with teams in the bottom half of the standings, including three of the out-of-form bottom four.

Still, with United fighting to break into the top four (top five if Manchester City’s European ban is upheld by CAS), Solskjaer may be reluctant to rotate his side too often in the league due to what’s at stake.

Ighalo, 31, featured for 120 minutes against Norwich on Saturday anyway, so it’ll be odd to put the frontman in the starting line-up at the Amex barring any unanticipated absences.

Besides, the imperious performance of United’s Fab Four (Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Markus Rashford and Anthony Martial) against Sheffield United means it’d be hard to justify a tweak to the XI that dovetailed spectacularly at Old Trafford a week ago.

Martial, who netted a hat-trick against the Blades, was rested at Carrow Road and was only introduced six minutes into extra time, is expected to play from the off against the Seagulls.

Thus, despite Ighalo’s five-goal contribution in games he starts, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations top scorer isn’t likely to make the team ahead of the in-form Frenchman, who’s the West African’s direct competitor for a central striking role in the side.

Indeed, this is likely to be par for the course subsequently, given Rashford – currently deployed on the left – and even young Mason Greenwood – who presently plays on the opposite flank – are ahead of the Nigerian in the pecking order to start centrally for United.

Even though the history-making Ighalo hasn’t let the team down whenever he plays from the off, the ex-Nigeria man may have to wait a while longer for that first league start under Solskjaer.


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