Football Features

“Viva Ighalo!” – Nigerian striker stands tall as Manchester United down Derby to make FA Cup quarter-finals

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:58, 5 March 2020

On a nice night of football, Manchester United beat Derby 3-0 at Pride Park in the FA Cup.

The win puts United back into the FA Cup quarter-finals where they will travel to East Anglia to take on Norwich City. In the end despite all the hype surrounding Wayne Rooney, the former United superstar was mostly a spectator watching the game pass him by as Bruno Fernandes pulled off his greatest magic trick yet in lifting the Red Devils to pick up a mundane win.

For years now, Manchester United have struggled against teams that sit deep against them. They have been so disorganised that they have struggled to pick up routine wins that should be easy enough for them to do. For instance they only drew 2-2 with Derby in last year’s EFL Cup, losing on penalties at Old Trafford.

This time they never even got near such problems as they ruthlessly dispatched the Rams at Pride Park. And whilst yes, Bruno Fernandes’ work as a central playmaker was behind every single good attack United put together for the 67 minutes he was on the field, and Luke Shaw was his able deputy with a tremendous performance from the Englishman, what actually enabled United to dominate the match so serenely was the goalscoring of Odion Ighalo.

The Nigerian joined United late in the January transfer window as an emergency signing from the Chinese Super League. United began the window trying to sign Erling Haaland, and having failed with that were left scrambling for a replacement. In the end they settled on loaning Ighalo from his side Shanghai Shenhua.

Ighalo’s signing was not received well at first. The Nigerian’s reputation in England wasn’t high as his last season in England saw him score just twice in 19 appearances. He was 30-years-old, out of shape and couldn’t even play at first due to Coronavirus quarantines!

Needless to say everyone had lots of jokes to make, but what we’ve seen from Ighalo (a boyhood United fan) so far in a red shirt is actually quite promising. Alright he’s not been Didier Drogba or anything, but that’s not what United needed him to be.

All the Red Devils needed was a “different kind of striker” as Solskjaer described the Nigerian after tonight’s game. A player capable of pushing defenders back, occupying their attention and stretching the field with vertical play both in terms of being a target-man for team-mates to play off of and then moving off the ball.

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Ighalo provides all that, and more to the point he is a striker with true goalscoring instincts. His first goal for United illustrated this as he tapped home from 6 yards out after a lovely attack from Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata. That’s what they needed: someone to score the nitty gritty goals. They had plenty of artists who try and score beautifully, notably Anthony Martial, but someone to collect tap-ins?

That was Ighalo’s job. He came into tonight with one, and he left with three. The Nigerian’s brace tonight was key to turning a stable(ish) 1-0 lead into a coasting performance. His first goal was a lovely bit of persistent striking play. He collected a cross, forced his way through the Derby defence and stabbed the ball home with his left foot.

His second came in the second-half after Fernandes went off. It was a flowing United move that saw Ighalo release Mata down the right. The Spaniard returned the ball to Ighalo whose shot was blocked, but the ball fell back to him and he thrashed it into the roof of the net with his left. It ended any hopes of a Derby comeback and put United onto easy street.

That makes it three goals in two starts for Odion Ighalo as a Manchester United player. He’s not a world-beater at all, but he is a striker. A proper no. 9 who just gets on with it. And that’s what United need. Anthony Martial flatters to deceive, Alexis Sánchez flopped hard, Romelu Lukaku didn’t want to be at the club and Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood aren’t no. 9’s.

Ighalo lacks the reputation of those men, and he may never threaten the very best sides, sure. But Manchester United’s biggest problem has always been beating weaker teams, and if Ighalo helps them do that as well as he has done so far, then how could you criticise him?

The fact that United fans appropriated Cristiano Ronaldo’s song to chant “Viva Ighalo!” all night long sums up the Nigerian’s impact for the Red Devils. Make no mistake about it, Odion Ighalo is going to be a crucial part of any Manchester United success this season.

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