A lot has happened in the world since March. For Odion Ighalo, his time since lockdown at Manchester United has not gone entirely to plan.
Ighalo is living his dream at Old Trafford, and prior to the season postponement in March, it appeared that nothing could hold him back.
He scored four goals including a spectacular strike against LASK, and it would not have been a surprise if he had started the next league game away at Tottenham.
By time this game was pushed back to mid-June, Ighalo’s momentum had disappeared.
Anthony Martial has been on a tear since, stamping his authority as Manchester United’s first choice centre-forward.
This included becoming United’s first hat-trick scorer since 2013, and increasing his tally to 23 goals for the season.
Ighalo has scored just the once since lockdown, in the FA Cup against Norwich, although he has not had many starts at all, two in total.
The resumption of the Europa League looked like providing more opportunities for Ighalo, but Martial has quickly re-affirmed his status as United’s first choice.
Martial came off the bench to net a winner against LASK after Ighalo had drawn a blank, and then the Frenchman’s performance against FC Copenhagen won rave reviews, with Robin van Persie telling BT Sport he looked like a ‘world class player’.
His presence is enough
Ighalo has reverted to backing up Martial rather than competing with him, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Nigerian has been forced into this position by Martial’s sheer brilliance.
If the competition has helped push Martial to raise his game, then Ighalo’s job is being done.
Having him as a back-up is a nice luxury. It meant United could rest Martial from the start against LASK a week ago.
Ighalo is ready if needed, and between now and the end of January when his loan expires, he will be needed again.
For now he has been pushed to the back of the queue so much that with a goal required against FC Copenhagen, he was not even brought on as a substitute.
That was down to Martial’s form and ability, with Solskjaer reluctant to take him off. It was a decision which paid off, with Martial winning the decisive penalty.
This will increase Ighalo’s hunger to seize any opportunities he gets in the semi-final or final.
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