Make that 11 straight matches unbeaten for Manchester United, who cruised through the first round of the Europa League knockout stages with a 5-0 victory against Austrian football club LASK. January signing Odion Ighalo found himself on the scoresheet for the fourth time in eight games and teenage prodigy Mason Greenwood continued his impressive run of form.
Although it was unusual to be watching both sides compete in front of an empty stadium filled with 500 fans and team officials, United essentially eliminated the need for a second leg, which is fortunate because next Thursday’s contest could run the risk of being postponed. Here are three things we learned from United’s Thursday afternoon thrashing of LASK.
Retain Ighalo at all costs
Odion Ighalo made it very clear early on that his lifelong dream was to be a Red Devil. After all, the former Watford striker recalls moments as a child where he would save his lunch money so he could watch United play on television during the weekend. Now at 30, the Nigerian international is scoring remarkable goals worthy of recognition once the season ends.
The technique, the control, the finish from Odion Ighalo pic.twitter.com/O0yj3gvR7i— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 12, 2020
He might be just on loan from Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua until the end of the season, but Ighalo has very much proven his worth to be in a United shirt past the conclusion of this campaign — at the very least, to strengthen Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s bench. He’s creative, has incredible ball control, and is unafraid to be dominant on the attack. Sure, many questioned the last-minute addition, but not a single United fan should be harboring any doubt that between him and Bruno Fernandes, this may have been United’s most successful January transfer window in quite some time.
Bailly-Maguire is the ultimate centre-back pairing
If he can maintain his fitness and overcome injury spells for good, the Eric Bailly-Harry Maguire partnership could be threatening in the Premier League. The Ivorian once again bossed United’s backline, making a crucial block late in the first half to deny the hosts an equalizer.
The FA Cup and Europa League matches have been a test for Bailly, and the 25-year-old appears to be passing with flying colors. Since his permanent return from injury, United have won every single match that Bailly has played (5/5). The Victor Lindelöf-Maguire partnership could probably last the rest of the season in league competition, but Bailly is getting stronger with each match and looks more than ready for top-flight minutes.
OGS is building a proper United squad
At this point, it’s United’s Europa League to lose. They’re the best side in the competition and arguably the most in-form side in England. It was a testy run at the start of this season, but Solskjaer has reignited confidence in the fanbase, built a team in serious contention for two trophies at the end of the year, and is shaping United up to be one of the most desirable landing spots during the summer transfer window.
Often criticized for being not being as tactically advanced as his managerial counterparts, Solskjaer has proven that notion to be invalid. From beefing up the defense to finding creative solutions in the wake of serious injuries to both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, the Norwegian has plenty to be proud about as he carries this side into the final months of the 2019/20 campaign. The bench is something that can be sorted in the coming months. For the time being, it’s refreshing to see a resurgence of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer experiment in 2020.