The Nigerian got little game time post-lockdown as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer relied heavily on a select few…but will that continue in 2020/21?
As recoveries go, Manchester United’s second half of the 2019/20 season was certainly impressive.
Having been, more or less, outsiders at the midway point to secure a Champions League spot via a top four finish, the Red Devils bounced back, in part aided by the inconsistency if the teams above them to end third with 66 points.
Still, the fact Man United were able to supplant a Leicester City side that were 11 points above them after 19 games was impressive. Strikingly, though, United’s final tally last term would have been enough for a top four finish in only one of the last 10 seasons – 2015/16. That year saw Leicester crowned champions in what was generally a poor campaign from all the top sides, so the Red Devils’ ‘achievement’ last season needs some perspective, regardless.
In the cup competitions, both at home and abroad, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team were eliminated in the semi-final. They fell to Manchester City, Chelsea and Sevilla in the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League respectively, leaving the Norwegian still without a trophy win at the Theatre of Dreams since taking charge.
How did Odion Ighalo fare amid the Premier League giants’ 2019/20 campaign and what’s possibly in store for the striker in 2020/21?
While many focused on Ighalo’s spell at boyhood club in the second part of last term, for obvious reasons in fairness, those observers tend to exclude his prolific time at Shanghai Shenhua in 2019 when talking about last season.
The former Watford striker netted 10 times in 17 appearances (15 starts) to end the campaign as the club’s second-highest scorer in the Chinese Super League.
This return probably put him in the conversation when Man United needed a stop-gap option up top after they missed out on primary target Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund in January.
With Marcus Rashford out injured, a temporary deal for the Nigerian was reasonable on Deadline Day as the Englishman was unlikely to return until late in the season. However, the coronavirus pandemic which saw football halted nearly worldwide put Ighalo in a tricky situation.
Despite thriving in the cup competitions—three goal contributions in Europe and two FA Cup strikes—before the sport’s suspension, the prolonged hiatus meant Rashford and United’s injured stars, including Paul Pogba, were going to return when football resumed.
This led to the prognosis that, despite the fanfare that met the striker’s loan extension to winter 2021, Ighalo wasn’t going to get ample game time in the Premier League (where he had barely featured before the lockdown) and probably in the cup games, too.
Indeed, Solskjaer, prioritising a top four hunt, relied heavily on a select few which saw the on-loan marksman get little action. He still scored in the Red Devils’ narrow 2-1 win over Norwich City and started in their return-leg 2-1 win over LASK, which saw United claim a 7-1 aggregate success.
However, there was a feeling that Ighalo and co. got a run out because of the Manchester side’s unassailable advantage from the first game and Ole would return to his preferred XI in the shortened knockout format in Germany.
Again, this was the case as the United boss reverted to his trusted players against FB Kobenhavn and eventual elimination by Sevilla in the last four.
Ultimately, it was a mixed time for the Nigerian. After a bright start, the return of Rashford and co. meant he was fighting a losing battle post-lockdown.
Ighalo’s story may have been different had the world not experienced a global pandemic. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.