Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described Odion Ighalo as a “natural striker” after the on-loan Nigerian scored his first Manchester United goal in the Europa League drubbing of Club Brugge.
With Anthony Martial missing out through injury, Ighalo was given his first start since his surprise loan move from Shanghai Shenhua last month.
The 30-year-old responded with a goal in the first half and led the line well as United eased to a 5-0 victory against 10-man opposition to go through to the last 16 6-1 on aggregate.
Solskjaer said: “I’m very happy with the contribution of Odion, doing what he does. He’s a target man, we can play up to him, he’ll hold it, he’s got Juan (Mata) and Bruno (Fernandes) next to him and you’ve got runners then.
“I think as a fellow striker I know how important that first goal is. He’s been close a couple of times, you can see he sniffs goals. He wants to be there where it sometimes hurts. That goal, he’s sharp in his head. That’s a natural striker.”
Ighalo’s fellow January recruit Fernandes showed again what a exciting signing he is, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot after a spectacular handball from defender Simon Deli, who was sent off.
The Portuguese then played a crucial role in the second for Ighalo before Scott McTominay, making a welcome return to the starting line-up after injury, grabbed a third before half-time.
Two late goals from Fred emphasised United’s superiority, and Solskjaer was understandably buoyant as he reflected on the performance.
The Norwegian said: “I’m very happy tonight. Obviously we’re in a moment now that we rotate a bit, players are getting games, but, when you score goals and play like this, you’re going to get more confidence.
“It was brilliant to see the start of the game, I thought they had the right intent, created loads of chances, and, when they go down to 10 men, of course the game was more or less over.”
Fernandes has had a huge impact since his move from Sporting Lisbon, and Solskjaer said: “Bruno coming in obviously makes a big, big difference. You can see he’s got a hand in all the three first goals. What a pass, what a goal Odion’s goal was.”
Two goals for Fred was another big positive for United, with the Brazilian finding the net for United for the first time since September 2018.
👇 15 confirmed teams for the last 16:— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) February 27, 2020
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be alive the next time he was going to score a goal because he’s had so many attempts,” said Solskjaer with a smile.
“But one with his right, one with his left. It’s been an ongoing joke between us of course, but he got that goal and I’m very pleased for him.”
The only bad news was a thigh injury for Martial that ruled him out of the squad.
Solskjaer is waiting to find out whether the forward could be available against Everton on Sunday, saying: “He went off training yesterday, just had treatment. He tried today, he reported, had a fitness test this morning.”
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