The social media is bound to erupt whenever Manchester United make a signing. But there was a different type of eruption when the club signed Odion Ighalo on loan from Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. The perception around it was about the drop in standards of the club and ‘how the mighty have fallen’. But they missed the point about how it wasn’t meant to be a ‘mighty’ signing at all.
What Ighalo does is that he just adds ruthlessness to the United attack. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had talked about looking for a ruthless striker in January- someone who could ‘break his nose’ for goals. By that, he meant that the club needs a striker who can be that no-nonsense goal-getter.
The context makes it hard for anyone to think otherwise. United are set to be without the mercurial Marcus Rashford till around April, leaving them short in a department that they’re already lacking in. The 21-year-old, who was playing his best football in a free role on the left, had a real impact that saw him contribute to 18 goals in 22 games.
Rashford had the room and freedom to cut inside and do everything he wanted to. In a way, Solskjaer was bringing the best out of him. He could get on the ball and work his magic on a consistent basis. He took 3.4 shots on goal per game, leading to higher output.
Anthony Martial, who was playing as the centre-forward, has a tally of eight goals and three assists. While that isn’t bad, the Frenchman is hardly known to be a proper striker. Like Rashford from before his recent spell, he is still finding his best position. He has a tendency to blow from hot to cold- something that is frustrating for Solskjaer.
Martial isn’t an aerial threat either, winning only 0.6 aerial duels per game. He loses 2.2 aerial duels per game. It isn’t his fault that he isn’t that sort of a striker. He’s more of a flair player than a no-nonsense sniper.
A lot of Martial’s inconsistencies can also be down to United not creating enough. While a lack of creating and inability to break teams down has been United’s issue, the club has still created an XG of 42.56. They’ve underperformed on that by 6.56. Martial isn’t the sole reason for that, as the club has let itself down when underperforming on goals from open play, set-pieces, corners and penalties.
It shows that while chances are being created, they aren’t being put away on a consistent basis. As a result of that, the club finds itself in the sixth-position, underperforming the most on the Premier League’s Expected Points tally. As per that, United should be fourth.
Ighalo’s time in China can’t be seen as a fair parameter of judging him. For Shenhua, he had a return of ten goals in 19 games. For his former club Changchun Yatai, he got 36 goals and eight assists in 55 appearances.
January is a window where players are hardly available. Clubs are forced to sign third-choice of fourth-choice players as their priority signings aren’t available. United did have Erling Haaland as a priority. For some reason, that deal didn’t work out. This left United scuppering for alternatives- more so when Rashford was ruled out long-term.
In a situation like this, anyone is bound to become desperate. United were meant to be more than just desperate because of the pattern the above numbers present. The lack of a finisher was letting them down and making sure that they are underperforming in many regards.
This is a player who is a United fan and was desperate to join United– his dream club. In the 2015-16 season at Watford, Ighalo had a tally of 15 goals and three assists. He did underperform on his XG by 1.09, but he was an expert at putting away big chances in front of goal.
In that season, Ighalo had seven shots on goal worth an XG of around 0.40. Out of that, he missed only one and that too was blocked, per Understat. What makes his XG look like an underperformance is that he took 3.10 shots per 90 that season. He took shots whenever he had a sniff and a low underperformance shows that it did come off many times.
The fact that he got 15 goals when in a season that saw him get seven ‘big’ chances shows that when given service, he will score goals. At United, he will get chances- more so now because of Bruno Fernandes’ presence. He certainly is someone with a nose for goals and he will get the chance to do just that.
Him being 30 doesn’t matter much for United. On a short-term deal, Ighalo is a temporary fix to really concerning issues. He isn’t costing much and United have a childhood fan- someone who dreamt of doing it. Ighalo will relish it and potentially give his all. If he does well, he can easily live a dream longer. There is a chance he does too.
It isn’t to say that this a masterclass. But it is very much another signing which shows that Solskjaer has recognised the right issues to fix. That isn’t something the club has done well ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left.