Thursday was a good night for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His Manchester United side were too strong for Derby at Pride Park, scoring three times and easing through to the quarter-finals of the competition. Now, however, he has a problem. Who does he pick from Odion Ighalo and Anthony Martial?
When Manchester United signed Ighalo on loan from Shanghai Shenhua on transfer deadline day, many were quick to react.
And their words weren’t positive.
United were slammed by large sections of the footballing community for bringing in a 30-year-old who has spent the last few years strutting his stuff in the Chinese Super League. Particularly with Erling Haaland, a player who was their top target, enjoying a stunning start to his time at Borussia Dortmund.
But six games into his Old Trafford career and it’s clear that Ighalo is silencing his critics.
The Nigeria international has been impressive since his arrival, certainly not looking out of place compared to other players at the club.
Before Thursday he’d scored one from one start. That was last week in a stirring 5-0 win over Club Brugge in the Europa League.
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And he tripled his goal tally on Thursday evening in the club’s 3-0 FA Cup victory over Derby.
Ighalo was the star of the show at Pride Park and demonstrated his deadly finishing with two well-taken goals.
He was also seen appearing to strike up a good understanding with team-mates such as Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata, who both sparkled on a cold evening in Derbyshire.
And, now, he’s given Solskjaer a problem.
He’s getting increasingly difficult to leave out, something the Norwegian admitted after the FA Cup win.
“Strikers when they score are hard to keep out and he is in consideration for Sunday [against Manchester City] definitely,” he said.
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“We’ve looked at the City game but we had to wait for tonight to see who came through unscathed.”
United, for the most part, have relied on Anthony Martial to lead the line this season.
The France international has done well, too, scoring 15 times – just two short of his best-ever seasonal goal tally.
But now United are facing huge decision.
They could play the duo together but Martial hated being out wide under Jose Mourinho and sees himself as a focal point instead.
The France international also remains somewhat of a luxury player, too, blowing hot and cold throughout the campaign.
And Ighalo appears to have done enough to stake his claim for a starting berth.
He’s got three goals from six games (and just two starts). Given all the negativity that surrounded his arrival, that’s quite an achievement.
And how Solskjaer solves his Ighalo and Martial problem is something only time will tell.
Certainly, the Norwegian is delighted with the impact of the Nigerian.
“[Ighalo] is doing what it says on the tin,” Solskjaer said after the win over Derby. “He’s come in and he’s playing up front, different type of striker.
“He gets chances every game, today could have had another couple. Happy with him. Gives us a chance when Mason [Greenwood] and Anthony [Martial] can be kept fresh.”
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