Manchester United new boy Odion Ighalo will go straight into the squad for Monday night’s game at Chelsea, despite missing the club’s warm-weather training camp due to travel restriction concerns.

The 30-year-old completed a surprise loan switch from Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, but did not head to Spain with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s group because of the coronavirus outbreak which has so far killed more than 1,000 people in mainland China.

The United boss said over the weekend that the club had left Ighalo in the UK as they were unsure whether he would be allowed to return to the country, having arrived from China in the previous fortnight.

But despite missing the trip to Marbella, Solskjaer has confirmed that the striker will go straight into the squad for the trip to Stamford Bridge after the winter break.

“Yeah, he is going to travel with us,” the Norwegian said. “We will just see his fitness work this week and I think we will get him sharp.

“We want to integrate him as quickly as we can because, of course, he is desperate to play for us.”

Ighalo had started pre-season training in China before the sudden move to Manchester, where he is undergoing a strength-based fitness regime in a bid to get match-ready.

The Nigeria international’s new team-mates, meanwhile, are benefiting from their Spanish training camp and having some much-needed downtime.

“I think the boys enjoyed a break – they needed a break,” Solskjaer said. “But now they are back, focused and they have been working well.

“With the weather back home as well, this has been an even bigger plus for us. Being in Europe, because the travel isn’t too far, is also a good point because we don’t have too many days before we have to go back and get ready for Chelsea.”

January acquisitions Bruno Fernandes and Nathan Bishop, the young goalkeeper signed from Southend, are settling into a group that will soon be bolstered by the return from injury of Scott McTominay, Axel Tuanzebe and Tim Fosu-Mensah.

“I hope that we will see some of them before the end of this week,” Solskjaer told club media, having seen the trio start the camp doing individual work.

“But next week will be a big week for them as well to get them match fit, so hopefully we can get them back on the pitch with their kit on soon.

 

“It is a long season. Overall, during every season, every team has injuries and we have been hit badly this year and we have felt the lack of numbers.

“But when everyone is back, the competition for every place is big and hopefully we will have two games every week.

“We want to go through in the Europa League, we want to go through in the FA Cup and of course the league is important, so we need players to rotate with.”

Away from the field, United have formalised their intention to bring rail seating to Old Trafford.

The club have long been in favour of the idea of rail seating in principle and discussed the matter with the two Premier League clubs to have recently installed it, Tottenham and Wolves.

United recently conducted a feasibility study following changes to the Sports Ground Stadium Authority Green Guide and are now looking to bring rail seating to Old Trafford, potentially before the end of the season.

Minutes from the United fans’ forum on January 31 read: “A formal proposal was made to the local Safety Advisory Group in December 2019 to request a trial in a small section of the stadium (up to 1,500 seats in the North East Quadrant).

“Our belief is that the introduction of rail seating will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing.

“The SAG committee is reviewing the request. This is not an automatic approval process. We will discuss the proposal in detail with the relevant authorities and will work through their compliance and review processes.”

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got his first big decision right today. The Manchester United boss wasted no time in getting Bruno Fernandes into his side and the new midfielder made an encouraging start to life in the Premier League. But Solskjaer followed his headline selection with a series of calls that do nothing to calm the fears around Old Trafford that Ed Woodward is not the only individual not capable of doing the job he is so handsomely paid for.

United huffed and puffed against a Wolves side which appeared strangely content to take a point home from Old Trafford when three were well within their grasp. That the hosts laboured comes as no surprise given the options available to Solskjaer and the inability of the United hierarchy to properly address the team’s weaknesses with a savvy, coherent recruitment plan. But the manager is expected to make the best of a bad situation and upon Wolves visit, that was once again beyond the Norwegian.

Fernandes’ inclusion was a no-brainer given the dearth of quality amid Solskjaer’s alternatives. Had those deficiencies escaped the new boy prior to signing on the dotted line, from his position in the thick of it, Fernandes will be all too aware of the burden he must carry until United break their bad habits in the transfer market.

Solskjaer surrounded Fernandes with Fred, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata, all three tidy, technical footballers cursed with varyingly-low levels of penetration.

Fred continued his recent elevation from wretched to somewhere approaching competent with an industrious display at the base of Solskjaer’s midfield. The Brazilian was largely tasked with shielding Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof from Wolves’ lightning fast breaks and the United centre-backs were generally well protected.

With the back door closed if not locked, United woefully failed once more to find a way though the Wolves rearguard. This was a meeting where both sides hoped the other might seize the initiative so either could wrestle it away. United at least tried to get within arm’s length but failed. Wolves appeared capable but unwilling.

This is nothing new for United. While Solskjaer insists on focusing on counter-attacking football, perhaps the simplest approach to counteract, there will be many more of these days at Old Trafford. Fernandes may limit that number slightly but on his own, the Portugal schemer cannot carry United.

In his first half of Premier League football, Fernandes recognised the need to talk and point Pereira and Daniel James through their jobs since neither they nor Solskjaer seem sure of them. For reasons known only to the United boss, he appears to have instructed James, the one player in the United attack who can get on the outside of a defender, to play through the inside channel to allow Luke Shaw, one of the Premier League’s least threatening full-backs, to have a go instead.

It was a similar story on the right. Juan Mata can be excused for being attracted inside because there is little to no hope of the veteran Spaniard taking the long way around any defender. But when Mata moves closer to Anthony Martial, advancing forward comes Aaron Wan-Bissaka who, like Shaw, offers woefully little in an attacking sense.

Why Shaw started ahead of Brandon Williams and why he might at any point through the rest of the season remains unclear. The United youngster has offered the kind of threat Shaw provided for Southampton, the pace and penetration which made United pay £30million five and a half-years ago but appears to have deserted the defender.

If Solskjaer was worried about Adama Traore – why wouldn’t he be? – then the United boss should have known he could trust Williams after the teenager’s two FA Cup battles against the Wolves powerhouse last month. The preference for Shaw was the latest in a growing line of overly-cautious selections.

Solskjaer also lacked either the nous or bravery – neither is a good look – to change Pereira. The manager recognised that Pereira was struggling in the first half but rather than change the personnel as he altered United’s shape, instead he put the Brazilian square peg in the round hold on United’s left. Pereira is not now, nor will he ever be a wide player, not one capable of servicing an attack with Champions League intent. Everyone, except Solskjaer, seems to recognise this and his withdrawal when it came was a quarter of the game too late by the time he was replaced by Mason Greenwood with 19 minutes remaining.

Then there is Anthony Martial. Solskjaer has little choice but to play the Frenchman given his lack of striking alternatives, at least until Odion Ighalo arrives and proves himself fit for – worthy of is another matter – United duty. Ighalo, though, just with the injection of some hustle could prove to be an upgrade on Martial who once more led the line seemingly under the impression that he was doing everyone a favour.

From United’s familiar faces, we learned nothing. Fernandes was the point of intrigue, however, and the new signing, first in a more advanced role before being brought deeper to get United going in the second half, showed that he can provide a spark that United so badly lack. But this quartet around him are never likely to catch fire, no matter how hot Fernandes sizzles.

Ian Watson

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League