Manchester United boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has poured encomiums on former Super Eagles star, Odion Ighalo following his performance for the side on Saturday.
The Nigerian scored the opening goal for United in their quarter-final FA Cup win against Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Ighalo scored the goal in the first five minutes of the match when he jabbed the ball over Tim Krul in goal for Norwich, his fifth in four games for the club, leaving Solskjaer proud of the former Watford man.
“Odion knows how much we value him in and around the dressing room and, of course, on the pitch,” the coach told the club’s website.
Solskjaer described Ighalo as “a goalscorer and a poacher” who is strong on the ball.
He noted that the striker gives the team options and “the chance to rotate with Marcus [Rashford], Anthony [Martial], and Mason [Greenwood] so they can get a rest and be fresh for every game.”
Repaying United’s Trust
Ighalo signed a loan extension with United on June 1, a deal which would see him stay at the Premier League club until the end of the season.
Ighalo’s initial loan deal from Shanghai Shenhua expired at the end of May, but the 30-year-old has been rewarded for an impressive return of four goals in eight appearances for United before football was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic in March.
“Manchester United have reached agreement with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua to extend the loan deal for Odion Ighalo,” United said in a statement.
“He will now remain with the Reds until 31 January 2021, enabling him to build on an impressive start to life with the club he supported as a boy.”
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho is hoping to exact revenge on former employers Manchester United, while Liverpool aim to move within one win of the title as the Premier League’s return kicks up a gear across a four-day weekend of action.
The English top flight got its first taste of empty stands and strict hygiene protocols on Wednesday as Aston Villa’s goalless draw with Sheffield United and Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal restarted the campaign.
Despite the muted atmosphere, there remains plenty to play for at both ends of the table with the clash between Tottenham and United pivotal in the battle for Champions League qualification.
Both sit outside the top four with nine games remaining. However, United’s position in fifth could be good enough to secure a return to the Champions League if Manchester City’s appeal against a two-season ban from European competition is unsuccessful.
Spurs could prove to be the biggest winners of the three-month lockdown.
Before the break, Mourinho claimed he could not wait for the season to finish as injuries to Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Moussa Sissoko and Steven Bergwijn appeared to have ended their campaigns.
All four are now fit again and victory would lift Tottenham to within one point of the club that sacked Mourinho in December 2018.
“The reality is we are now in a better position to where we were before,” said Mourinho.
“We got Harry and Sonny back, the players with the best stats in terms of scoring and assists. They give us this kind of attacking power.”
United were the form side in the league prior to the lockdown.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are unbeaten in 11 games but also benefited from the break as Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba return from long-term injuries.
Rashford has made waves for his power off the field with a campaign to provide vulnerable children with food vouchers forcing a British government U-turn.
But the England international is desperate to get back on more familiar ground after being sidelined by a back injury since January.
“It’s been a long time, but I think I needed it,” Rashford told Sky Sports.
“Within my body I definitely feel confident again and ready to play games. The timing has worked out well for me.”
Solskjaer said Pogba is “raring to go” after an injury-ravaged season and could be paired with January signing Bruno Fernandes in the United midfield for the first time.
– Liverpool excitement building –
City’s victory over Arsenal means Liverpool cannot seal a first league title in 30 years against Everton on Sunday, much to the blue side of Merseyside’s relief.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are just two wins away from the historic feat and victory at Goodison Park will allow them the chance to win the league on home soil when Crystal Palace visit Anfield on Wednesday.
“You can feel it,” said Klopp of the excitement building around his side’s return. “I feel the intensity everywhere.”
The match will take place in Liverpool despite fears over fans congregating outside both stadiums in the city. Goodison and Anfield are separated by less than a mile.
Klopp has urged his supporters to be “the best stay at home fans in the world”.
The earliest Liverpool could now be crowned champions is on Monday should the Reds win and City lose at home to Burnley.
At the other end of the table, Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth sit in the relegation zone, but just three points separate second-bottom Villa from Brighton in 15th.
Rock-bottom Norwich can ramp up the pressure on those above them even more should they close to within three points of safety in the first match of the weekend against Southampton.
Friday (all times GMT)
Norwich v Southampton (1700), Tottenham v Manchester United (1915)
Watford v Leicester (1130), Brighton v Arsenal (1400), West Ham v Wolves (1630), Bournemouth v Crystal Palace (1845)
Newcastle v Sheffield United (1300), Aston Villa v Chelsea (1515), Everton v Liverpool (1800)
His deal expires on May 31st, but the Old Trafford outfit are ready to extend his stay until June 30th due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.
Although United are considering signing the former Watford striker on a permanent deal at the end of his contract, Shangai have offered Ighalo the whooping deal to lure him back to the Asian nation, according to Sky Sports.
There have been calls for United’s management to hand the Lagos-born forward a permanent deal with boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, muting the idea.
And Ferdinand, who played for United between 2002 and 2014, has joined the call for a permanent deal for the former Granada man.
In a question and answer session on his YouTube channel, Tuesday, the former England defender, said the 30-year-old striker has the physical ability that was lacking in the Red Devils.
While Ighalo may not have turned Man United into world-beaters, his ball-holding ability makes him an asset to the team, Ferdinand explained.
“It’s shocked me to see what he’s done,” the former defender said. “Listen, we’re not talking like he’s turned Man United into world-beaters, but United needed something, and he’s brought it in and given it, and that’s all you can ask for.”
According to him, if Ighalo plays alongside Rashford and Anthony Martial, his experience will help the duo become better in the long run.
He argued that “he’s warranted the opportunity to come in as a full-time player and what he’s given Manchester United which they didn’t have is someone they can pass the ball into and can hold it up, he’s got a physical presence, he can hold off a defender or two and lay the ball in for someone else to score.”
“Supporting our Juventus and Sampdoria friends @blaisematuidiofficiel, @albinekdal and all athletes and people around the world who are facing this difficult moment,” the midfielder wrote. ⠀⠀
“Be strong, #StayAtHome and be safe 💪🏾! New training camp is called …⠀⠀ Quarantine PP Arena, open 24/7! 🏋🏾♂. Having fun working at home 🏠 with my brother @victorlindelof!”
He added, “I know the cheeky ones will talk about the Juventus jersey 😏 I’m just supporting my friends … that’s all, nothing more 😁).”
United centre-back, Victor Linderlof, also joined the Frenchman in the indoor training and wore a Sampdoria shirt to show solidarity for Swedish teammate, Albin Ekdal, who equally tested positive to coronavirus.
The defender wore Ekdal’s Sampdoria shirt in the video which has sparked rumours of Pogba’s possible return to the Italian side.
Matuidi himself took to his Twitter account to issue an update about his treatment, saying he is “positive.”
“I am positive. I am positive, I am strong, morale is good. I am positive, we will collectively emerge stronger from this test.” the World Cup winner tweeted.
“Thank you for your messages of friendship and support. Let us remain disciplined and united. I am positive, we will do it.”
Je suis positif. Je suis positif, je suis fort, le moral est bon. Je suis positif, nous ressortirons collectivement plus forts de cette épreuve. Merci pour vos messages d’amitié et de soutien. Restons disciplinés et unis. Je suis positif, nous allons le faire. pic.twitter.com/iEEf3SMmeV