Odion Ighalo could make his long-awaited Manchester United debut from the bench when the Red Devils play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested.
Ighalo, 30, joined United from Shanghai Shenhua on loan until the end of the season on deadline day but has not been able to train with the rest of his teammates since his move.
The former Super Eagles striker didn’t travel with the rest of the squad to their warm-weather training camp in Marbella, Spain over fears that he could be denied re-entry to the United Kingdom over the Coronavirus outbreak in China.
The United squad only returned to Manchester on Friday and are due to have a rest day on Saturday before a final training session at their Carrington training complex on Sunday, when Ighalo could be introduced to his new teammates.
United are expected to travel to London on Sunday afternoon and Ighalo could make his debut off the bench at Stamford Bridge.
“I never said he was going to be ready to play on Monday,” Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “He’ll be involved with us and he’ll travel down with us. Now he’s out of that two-week period – a precaution we made. He’ll travel with us and let’s see if he’s involved or not.
“We’ve kept in touch with him and, of course, we’ve done our own programme, he’s done his. And it was always going to be a case of him having to integrate to the group, anyway, having been out in China, and he needs to get used to the players and the team and up to speed as quick as he can.
“But he’s been working really hard, I think he’s probably pinching himself at times, because he’s now at his favourite club at the age of 30. But he’s earned that one and hopefully he’ll impress us so we can see him play.
“The injury Marcus Rashford, it has to be said, we needed another forward and when we got the chance to get Odion on a loan that was, for us, a goalscorer, top scorer Africa Cup of Nations last year.
“We thought, yeah, he can help the club. He’s a very professional player, a good lad and will give something to the group.”
Solskjaer also downplayed concerns over how Ighalo’s lack of training time with the rest of the squad would affect his performance if he makes an appearance against Chelsae.
Having emerged off the bench on his United debut to equalise against Blackburn Rovers in 1996 the United manager expressed confidence that Ighalo could still make an impact against the Blues regardless.
“I didn’t have to have a training session to come on and do something,” Solskjaer added.
“As a striker, you get thrown on and do what you can. And it might be he’ll have to come off the bench and give us a goal and he does whatever he’s always done.”