Odion Ighalo continued his fine run of goalscoring form as Manchester United thrashed Austrian side LASK 5-0 in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday.
The match had been shrouded in doubt amid the global outbreak of the coronavirus but Uefa decided to allow the game to be played behind closed doors. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed Ighalo another start after his goal against Club Brugge in the previous round and the Norwegian’s strong line-up suggested how seriously he is taking the competition.
Bruno Fernandes, who has proved to be a fine addition from Sporting Lisbon, was at the centre of their attacking play in the early stages and the Portuguese was involved in setting up Luke Shaw as he crossed for Juan Mata, but the Spaniard’s effort was deflected wide.
Daniel James, without a goal since August 31, went close after striking from the edge of the box but LASK goalkeeper Alexander Schlager did well to tip it wide.
Bruno dinks it with the outside of his foot and Ighalo controls it, keeps it up in the air and thunders the strike into off the underside of the bar. LASK showed some fight towards the end of the half and if it wasn’t for Eric Bailly’s timely block, they could have been level.
But United put the game beyond doubt with 58 minutes on the clock. Scott McTominay found James with the Austrian side caught upfield and the Welsh winger showed good control and pace to skip past Gernot Trauner before firing low into the bottom left corner.
The night could have got even better for Solskjaer’s men after a delightful flick from Fernandes into Ighalo’s path, but the Nigerian’s poked effort bounced back off the woodwork.
Fred’s incisive through ball found Mata and he slotted home eight minutes from time to hand United a 3-0 lead – but they were not done there.
Substitutes Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood combined as the former set up the latter to score a goal made in the United academy in the 91st minute, and there was still time for Andreas Pereira to catch out LASK keeper Schlager with a long-range effort with seconds left to wrap up the 5-0 victory.
Speaking during his post-match conference, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists that the game was worthwhile.
“For us, it counts, because we know what we can do and are still improving and that’s what matters,” he said.
“To see the improvement of the team, the players, it’s vital enough.
“I think the quality of our play was good. We were well prepared for them and I think the boys did fantastically.
“The first goal was important. I think there was some high-class finishing in the goal tonight. Odion’s goal was very, very good. There should have been more goals before half time but we got the goals we needed.”
“The boys were fantastic, they deserve a lot of credit and praise for the way they went about the job. There was loads of quality in our finishing, some fantastic goals and some football we should be proud of.”
The United boss hinted that Ighalo could force his way into a permanent move to the club.
The Norwegian said: “Odion has come in really well and he will improve and get better. But he has qualities we saw in him and needed and we need those qualities for next season.
“He’s a goal-scorer and a striker. He doesn’t worry too much about all that nonsense, build-up play – that’s a joke obviously.
“He knows his job and role in the team, and he’s very good with his back to goal.
“He’s a great link player, but maybe the best thing about him is his personality. He’s got the whole lot really.”
Solskjaer hailed the quality of Ighalo’s goal, adding: “He had three touches before and his fourth was the finish.
“All of those touches were high quality, but he had to make them to make it. A great strike on the half-volley, great timing, anyone would be proud of that finish.”