Odion Ighalo 2019/20 – scout report
This winter transfer window saw Premier League giants Manchester United sign two players, the first of which was Bruno Fernandes. The attacking midfielder’s arrival is long-awaited and honestly, much expected by United’s supporters. So far, the 25-year-old has given an instant impact for the Red Devils. He has scored three goals and four assists in just nine matches. Such brilliant performance rewarded him the Premier League’s Player of the Month for February – underlining his instant influence.
But it wasn’t only him, as United also signed another attacker. However, it was a transfer almost no one saw coming. The Red Devils signed Former Watford forward Odion Ighalo on loan from Chinese side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua just two days after Fernandes arrived. Despite the unexpected nature of the transfer, Ighalo silenced his critics with a stunning performance to open his career at Old Trafford. Without further ado, this tactical analysis will inform you about Ighalo and his impact for United.
Ighalo is a pure centre-forward and this particular position was needed to be filled by Ole Gunnar Solskjær as talisman Marcus Rashford is still out for a back injury. Indeed there were two more options in Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial who can also play as a target man. However, the former is more often deployed as a right-winger rather than as a striker. Martial is United’s main option for that position, but as the schedule gets congested, Solskjær needed someone to rotate with the Frenchman.
As mentioned previously in this scout report, Ighalo is a pure target man. It means that he can’t play in the flanks as Rashford, Greenwood, or Martial. The 30-year-old offers something different from those three attackers, which will be explained later. Looking at the statistics, such particular trait helps Ighalo to bag four goals in just 318 minutes of football. Not only that, but the stats also show that Ighalo has made an assist from three matches in the Europa League.
Good upper-body strength
United’s attackers such as Rashford, Greenwood, or Daniel James, have exceptional pace and prefer for the ball to be played into space. In contrast to his attacking comrades, Ighalo prefers for the ball to be played into his feet. The reason is that Ighalo has great upper-body strength in his arsenal. Ighalo mainly uses this particular trait by backing himself to the opponents’ centre-back. This ability gives more dimension for Solskjær’s attacking tactics.
Ighalo’s strength mainly enables him to shield the ball in the final third. In the process, he would back himself to his marker and charge the defender. Thanks to his supreme upper-body muscle, Ighalo would win most of such duels and allow himself enough space. The forward then uses the space to turn and create a shot for himself.
If United opt to use a more direct approach, Ighalo’s strength will be quite handy. His strength would allow him to win physical duels against the centre-back before laying off the ball to his nearby teammate. Not only that, but Ighalo’s ability is also useful in deeper areas. He can help United to win second balls as his physique is relatively bigger than any midfielder’s.
Offer link-up plays
Despite being a happy-scoring forward in his first month at Old Trafford, Ighalo shows that he’s not a selfish attacker. The Nigerian possesses enough passing ability and vision to locate his nearby teammates. Mainly, Ighalo would back himself to the centre-back in the final third. By doing that, Ighalo would face the ball first and enable him to lay the ball off for his attacking comrades in between the lines. His strength would also prevent the centre-back from moving forward to that area.
The receiver from Ighalo’s pass then can create a shot from just outside of the box. Such link-up play is essential for United’s attacks. The reason is Solskjær’s tendency to allow his midfielders to shoot from outside the box. As per the statistics, United averaged 6.9 shots per game from beyond the penalty box – this is the highest tally in the Premier League.
Ighalo also likes to drop a bit in between the lines to offer link-up plays. By doing that, he would leave his marker and free himself in the space. Then, Ighalo could either move the ball wide or send it to the marauding midfielder. His ability to offer link-up plays is also quite important in United’s transition-heavy attacks. The reason is that Ighalo can find his attacking teammate with minimum touches, therefore maintaining the speed of the attack.
Even though he has performed much better than expected, Ighalo has some issues in his game. Mainly, the Nigerian relies too much on his strength in the final third, thus making him relatively static. Ighalo rarely makes off-the-ball movements to move away from his marker. It’s very uncommon for Ighalo to make curved runs or a sharp last-second turn to attack the ball. This makes Ighalo predictable inside the box.
It’s not his only issue. Despite his upper-body strength, Ighalo is not known for his ability in the air. The 30-year-old rarely win aerial duels, making him a liability in crossing situations. The stats back this argument as Ighalo lost 2.9 aerial duels per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far. His tally in the Chinese Super League was not good either – Ighalo only won 1.1 aerial duels per 90 minutes last year and lost 1.9 of them on the same rate.
Playing for United is fulfilling a boyhood dream for Ighalo. The forward successfully started his once-in-a-lifetime moment with a superb display. His strength and link-up ability are the reason behind that and that allows him to be a useful option for Solskjær in his tactical repertoire. Ighalo also further silences the naysayers with four goals in just 318 minutes of playing time.
However, this analysis argues that Ighalo has some issues that he has to work on. The 30-year-old needs to improve his game to be a better target man for his dream club. Only by doing that can Ighalo cement his name as a cult hero at Old Trafford.