Manchester United legend Roy Keane has praised January signing Odion Ighalo for igniting a ‘reaction’ from Anthony Martial and motivating the Frenchman to up his game.
Martial has enjoyed a strong campaign since being deployed through the middle by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has stepped it up another level since February, scoring in three of United’s last five Premier League matches – none of which they have lost.
The 24-year-old was on the scoresheet again at Old Trafford on Sunday against rivals Manchester City, latching onto Bruno Fernandes’ smart free-kick to open the scoring in a 2-0 victory. He was replaced by Ighalo, who held the ball up well and was involved in Scott McTominay’s stoppage-time strike — Keane believes the Nigerian’s presence has provided exactly the competition Martial needed.
Keane said: “You’ve had a reaction as well from Martial. Sometimes a new striker comes in, you praise the new striker, but then that pushes the other lads. There’s almost been a reaction from Martial, thinking: ‘Oh, I’ve got another player to fight with for my position’. And there’s been a good reaction.”
Jamie Redknapp was also full of praise for Ighalo’s cameo against City, saying: “When you’re struggling, you’re hanging on, you want your centre-forward to get hold of the ball. Just hold it up and do something special for you. He keeps it alive, it’s a lovely backheel and look what you get at the end of it.”
While United have had no problems beating the top sides under Solskjaer, they have struggled to break down defensive teams sitting off, though Gary Neville feels Ighalo can also help solve that problem.
Asked if Ighalo could make a difference against the so-called lesser teams, he said: “I think he would do in those type of games because Martial and James aren’t as suited. Rashford I’d put into that category as well, when opposition defences do sit deep and they’ve got to be a little bit more cute and they haven’t got the space to run into. And Ighalo has good feet, so he would come into play in those types of games, with Juan Mata”.
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