Manchester United looked to have pulled off a masterstroke when they signed Odion Ighalo on loan.
The Nigerian scored five goals in four cup starts to prove one hell of a bargain. Unfortunately, despite extending his contract until January, Ighalo has barely got a kick since football restarted.
That is no great surprise when you consider the presence of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford. Yet the latter’s poor form suggests Ighalo should have got more than his 60 minutes across the last eight league games.
With one match remaining, Ighalo is unlikely to be anything more than a late sub this weekend. Yet the 31-year-old could still go down as an Old Trafford hero.
After all, the Europa League is right around the corner, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will surely call on Ighalo a lot more in that competition.
United’s loanee scored one of the goals of the season last time out, netting in the 5-0 win against LASK.
It was a goal out of nothing and one that showed just how dangerous Ighalo can be.
It may have been against a European minnow, but his wonder-strike would have beaten the best ‘keepers in the world.
For that reason it is frustrating that Ighalo has not seen more action in the Premier League. Yet he can be expected to make up for lost time in the mini-tournament.
United’s second leg is a formality and they then face a winnable quarter-final before things get tougher.
A hero in the making
Depending on how Sunday’s game goes, United may need European victory to secure a return to the continent’s top table. If that is the case, Ighalo will have a vital role to play.
It did not take United fans long to realise that their January signing was living the dream. A Red Devils fan, Ighalo enjoyed every minute he gets on the field.
It is also not beyond the realms of possibility that he could end this season lifting silverware.
The FA Cup may have proved a challenge too far for Solskjaer’s men. But they are more than capable of finishing the campaign on a high.
It would be testament to how far United have come since Ighalo and fellow January signing Bruno Fernandes arrived.
While the latter is one of the first names on the team sheet, the former is used far more sparingly.
He is proving to be something of a cup specialist at United and it will be exciting to see him perform next month.
Greenwood, Martial and Rashford are both the present and the future. But United fans should not discount the veteran of the group. He may have one big trick up his sleeve before the campaign ends for good.