When Odion Ighalo joined Manchester United on loan in January from Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua, there were no great expectations placed on the striker.
The boyhood United fan was, for all intents and purposes, cover and little more. Yet eight matches into his career at Old Trafford and there is even some debate as to whether the 30-year-old should be the club’s first-choice striker.
In just 318 minutes of football, Ighalo has scored four goals. His ability on the ball has also caught the eye, no more so than in the dying stages of the Manchester derby victory.
So if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was to make the former Watford man his first-choice No.9, who would it be best to pair him up with? We’ve looked at the options currently at Old Trafford and then two others who could bring out the best of the Nigeria international.
Were it not for the double stress fracture Rashford sustained in his back in January, then perhaps Ighalo wouldn’t even be at Old Trafford. Yet in a bit of serendipity, the duo could end up forming an effective partnership.
Rashford, either from the left or when played through the middle, is at his most effective when there is space to exploit. Ighalo could help create that. The on-loan striker can battle centre-backs or drop off to knit together attacks, and that would create gaps for the England international.
In the 3-5-2 shape Solskjaer has used this season, an Ighalo and Rashford partnership could enable United to play swift, exciting counter-attacking football.
Ighalo and Marital have rarely shared a pitch since the former’s arrival in January. Given the dearth of striking options available to Solskjaer, Ighalo has tended to feature when the French star has needed respite.
Yet that doesn't mean the duo couldn’t link together well. Similar to Rashford, Martial’s pace can be devastating when there is space behind defences to get at.
Ighalo’s bustling nature, coupled with his quick feet when in possession, would draw the attention of defenders and the current United No.9 would benefit.
Now bear with us. Those who watched Watford regularly during the 2015/16 season - when Ighalo struck 15 Premier League goals - will know he thrived alongside the battering ram that is Troy Deeney.
The Nigerian would often lurk on the shoulder of the last man and let Deeney handle the rest. It was a partnership which for a season, thrived in the Premier League. And it’s one that could be replicated… in a fashion.
Haller has the characteristics required to be the perfect foil for Ighalo. He has the physical frame to hold off defenders and he combines this with clever and subtle link play.
Forget, for a moment, his difficulties with West Ham this season. During the 2018/19 campaign, Haller starred for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga alongside Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic. He averaged 0.98 goal involvements per 90, a figure bettered by only eight players across Europe’s top five leagues.
The only problem is Haller would be costly. West Ham wouldn’t want to sell their club-record signing on the cheap, no matter how inconsistent his form has been.
The Polish striker is set to leave Napoli at the end of the 2019/20 campaign after talks over extending his contract hit an impasse. With his deal ending in June 2021, the Serie A side will be forced into a cut-price sale.
United could take advantage and team Milik up with Ighalo. Similar to Haller, the 26-year-old is far more than a goalscorer.
He is excellent at dropping deep and combining with midfielders but can also battle centre-backs aerially. Milik would enable Ighalo to focus on penalty-box poaching, something he built his reputation on while at Watford.