Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo seems to be hyped up for his first appearance at Wembley with the Old Trafford club as they get ready to face Chelsea in the semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup on Sunday evening. There are no guarantees that the Nigerian striker will start or even come off the bench on Sunday but some feel that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to make major changes to keep the team fresh for West Ham United at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Wednesday.
However, Solskjaer suggested that ‘Wembley will give anyone energy‘ which suggests that his strongest XI, or as close as possible, will face Frank Lampard’s Chelsea at the national stadium on Sunday. Ighalo has not featured for United since the 3-0 thrashing of Aston Villa, an unused substitute in the last two matches; a 2-2 draw with Southampton and a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. He has scored in each round of the FA Cup he has played in so far this season, so will probably get the opportunity once again.
It is playing in the FA Cup at Wembley that Ighalo wants to do, successfully this time though. When he played for Watford, they reached the semi-final during the 2015/16 season and were beaten 2-1 by Crystal Palace, United’s opposition in the final which secured the first major honour for the Old Trafford club post-Sir Alex Ferguson. Ighalo recently spoke to the official Manchester United website about this experience with Watford, which still seemed to have a bitter taste in his mouth, presumably seeking to make it right this time. Ighalo said:
“It was a difficult one to take against Crystal Palace, we lost 2-1 at Wembley. If we’d have won, we’d have played United in the final.
“Unfortunately, we lost. It was a bitter one to take but this is an opportunity again in an FA Cup semi-final to make it right and go forward to the final. If I’m called to play, I’m going to give all I can to help the team win the game.
“Everybody wants to play against teams like Chelsea, big teams, and play well against them and, most of all, playing at Wembley and, you know if you win, you’re in the final. So, of course, it’s going to give you more to want to fight hard and make sure you give everything to win the game.
“To get to the final would be great for me in my life and my career. I missed out in 2016 and I have the opportunity to now get to the final with the club I’ve supported all my life. It would make my dreams perfect. It will be tough but we have what it takes.
“We have beaten them three times this season I think, one in the Carabao Cup and two in the league, and we’re playing them now in the semi-final. All those games don’t count though. This is a different game which is going to be even tougher without the fans in stadium.
“We have to fight from the first minute until the end. It’s always tough against them but I think, with the quality and momentum we have now, we are ready to go and to win against any team.”
Since arriving at United in January, Ighalo have made a total of 14 appearances for his club, scoring five goals and one assist. He is yet to score or assist in the Premier League, scoring twice, with one assist in the Europa League, then scoring the remaining three goals in the FA Cup. He scored a brace against Derby County in the fifth round of the domestic competition back in January at Pride Park, then scored the opener in the quarter-finals against Norwich City last month with United winning 2-1 in extra time with Harry Maguire scoring in the 118th minute of the match.
Ighalo has seen a lot of his playing time from the bench this season with the form of Anthony Martial (22 goals and eight assists), Marcus Rashford (22 goals and 11 assists) and Mason Greenwood (16 goals and five assists) all playing ahead of him. He won’t mind that though as he is at the club to be the extra player to bring on if needed and he will understand that, His loan spell was never going to see him become the first-choice striker in the squad, unless his form forced that to happen. The Nigerian striker was asked about the trio, to which he concluded by saying:
“They are doing so well. Seeing them playing every week is a joy. Rashford has come back from his injury and is doing well. Martial is scoring goals, Mason Greenwood is unbelievable, he is such a good finisher with both feet.
“The team is doing well and the three forwards are scoring goals and that’s what we need – goals win games. And I don’t forget Bruno [Fernandes] with the assists and goals too. I think the mentality is getting stronger every time.
“As a professional, you have to be ready, you have to have that mental strength to be ready. We train hard to keep fit and I’m always ready when I’m called upon, and I will give 100 per cent. You always have to stay focused.”
After Sunday’s match, whether Solskjaer’s side win or lose, they will have tp go back to readying themselves for the final two Premier League matches of the season; facing West Ham United at Old Trafford on Wednesday, then heading to the King Power Stadium on the final day of the season, a week from Sunday, to face Leicester City in what could be a battle for a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League this season to qualify for the Champions League. United will then have some rest before embarking on their UEFA Europa League adventure.
Written by John Walker