Odion Ighalo pens emotional farewell message to Manchester United

Odion Ighalo has bid an emotional farewell to Manchester United as he prepares to return to parent club Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League.

Ighalo joined United on an initial six-month loan in January 2020, fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing for his boyhood club. The Red Devils had moved for the former Watford man in the dying embers of the transfer window following a serious back injury to Marcus Rashford.

Odion Ighalo
Ighalo is a Man Utd fan | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

After impressing in 19 appearances and scoring five goals, the Red Devils opted to extend his stay in the summer. However, the 31-year-old has seen his game time severely restricted this season after the arrival of Edinson Cavani on a free transfer, featuring for just 157 minutes in all competitions.

The Nigerian’s 12-month deal at Old Trafford is set to expire at the end of the month, and the player has penned a heartfelt goodbye message to the club he loves.

Taking to Instagram, he wrote: “It’s so hard to see this dream come to an end. But I give God the glory for helping me fulfil this lifelong dream of putting on a Manchester United shirt as a player and represent this great club, it was indeed an honour I will forever cherish and be grateful for.

“To the manager I say thank you for trusting and believing in me when many did not , to my amazing teammates I will miss you guys, it was always fun and a time I look forward to training and spending time with all of you.

“And I pray we win the LEAGUE and FA cup this year. To the best fans in the world (the Manchester United fans) we have missed you, but we hear your voices cheering us on from afar, we can’t wait to have you all back on the stands.

“I’m still and would remain a MANCHESTER UNITED FAN forever. Once a Red, always a Red. Thank you Manchester United and God bless.”

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The stats that prove Sam Johnstone will be key in West Brom’s survival bid

If West Brom are to have any chance of staying in the Premier League this season, they are going to need more big performances from star goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone.

In no game was Johnstone’s importance to Sam Allardyce’s side more evident than the Baggies’ superb 1-1 draw against Manchester City back in December.

Prior to the contest, no one gave West Brom a hope. Even with Pep Guardiola’s side looking more of a soft touch at times this season, travelling to the Etihad Stadium remains one of the most daunting away trips in world football.

Sam Johnstone, Raheem Sterling
Johnstone made two fines saves to deny Sterling against City | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

This was a Baggies side is dire form as well. Their only win of the campaign had come against a hapless Sheffield United, and even that was fortuitous. They had also shipped five goals to a team containing Christian Benteke just two games prior.

Despite all the signs pointing towards a City win, the Baggies somehow managed to gain a point, largely thanks to some goalkeeping heroics from Johnstone. Overall, he made seven saves, but it was in the closing stages where he really showed his worth.

In the final 15 minutes he made two, quickfire saves from Kevin De Bruyne – one from close range and one a free kick – before thwarting the Belgian once again by preventing his incredible cross being headed home by Raheem Sterling. He would then repeat the trick minutes later, scrambling to prevent Sterling nodding in the winner.

His display was resolute and composed, typical of a goalkeeper once on the books of table-topping Manchester United. Johnstone’s route to the top has not been the most conventional. Bouncing around the lower leagues on various loan spells, he finally made a name for himself at Aston Villa between 2017 and 2018.

When he was finally let go by United it would be another Midlands club, West Brom, that he would make his permanent home. A heartbreaking playoff semi-final exit at the hands of his former side Villa would follow in his first season, before he at last made it to the top flight last term.

His match-saving display against City has not been the only time Johnstone has caught the eye this season. In the Baggies 3-3 draw with Chelsea he completed an astonishing eight saves to help the Baggies secure their first points of the season.

His side’s 1-0 defeat to boyhood club United would have been significantly more embarrassing without him between the sticks as well. In that contest, Johnstone saved a penalty and registered a post-shot xG of 3.1. In layman’s terms, this means he saved his side two goals in total.

Sam Johnstone
Johnstone’s kicking has been solid enough as well | Pool/Getty Images

Several other statistics reflect very favourably on Johnstone. Over the course of the season, only six goalkeepers (Emiliano Martinez, Nick Pope, Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Alisson and Kasper Schmeichel) have registered a better PSxG minus goals allowed figure than him.

Also, in terms of sheer quantity of saves, Johnstone is leading the way with 77 – 10 more than second-placed stopper Karl Darlow.

All this leads to one conclusion: Without Johnstone, West Brom would be far worse off than they are already. If Big Sam is to continue his remarkable record of bringing teams back from the brink, his star goalkeeper is going to play a decisive role.

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Peter Crouch says it was ‘harsh’ for Chelsea to sack Frank Lampard

Premier League pundit Peter Crouch has described it as ‘harsh’ that former England teammate Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea, suggesting that if anyone deserved more time in that job it would be the Stamford Bridge legend.

Lampard paid the price for a run of form that had seen Chelsea lose five of their last eight Premier League games and slide into a mid-table position, despite being equipped with well over £200m worth of new players during the summer.

Timo Werner
Lampard was struggling to get the best out of expensive signings | Pool/Getty Images

The 42-year-old’s last game in charge was an improved result in an FA Cup fourth round win over Championship side Luton, having previously complained that too many of his players weren’t doing enough of the basics or putting the work in during games.

The Chelsea hierarchy pulled the metaphorical trigger on Monday and owner Roman Abramovich said the decision should not take away from Lampard’s status as a club legend. But Crouch was hoping his former international colleague would have more time to make his mark.

“Brutal. That’s a good word,” he said talking to 90min’s Ben Haines.

“It’s just harsh. It felt like Chelsea were getting something back when they hired Frank. I think they had sort of lost their way a little bit, lost their identity, and it felt like Frank was an institution at the football club and an absolute club legend.

“He started bringing through some of the young players like Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Billy Gilmour. They’ve got Mason Mount running things in midfield and it felt like there was some sort of identity back at the club,” Crouch continued.

The gauntlet was laid down for an inexperienced Lampard from the moment he took the job, with Chelsea serving a transfer ban at the time that prevented him from immediately putting his own stamp on the squad, other than promoting from within.

But the Blues still reached the 2020 FA Cup final and finished in the Premier League top four to ensure they would be playing in the Champions League this season and Crouch suggests that, even though bad results are impossible to ignore, those achievements warranted more patience.

“For him to do as well as he did and get the club in the Champions League when they were struggling. Then they were top of the league, what? A couple of months ago when they were doing well,” the ex-Liverpool, Tottenham and Stoke striker said.

Peter Crouch
Peter Crouch thinks Lampard deserved more time | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

“Yes, he was going through his first blip and they’re not playing well, you can’t dress it up. He’ll have been disappointed Frank, with his team, but to sack him after his first dip in form does feel so harsh.

“We’re all surprised, but are we surprised? When Frank took the job, he would have known how ruthless the owner can be. We’d all like to think [it would have been different] but it’s been proven that it’s just not.

“The owner has been incredibly successful over the years doing it his way. You have to say that. But it just felt like something was a change this time because if anyone deserved a bit of grace for a slight dip in form at the moment, then you think it’d be Frank. But it’s not proven to be the case.”

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Thomas Tuchel confirmed as new Chelsea manager

Chelsea have confirmed Thomas Tuchel as their new head coach, replacing Frank Lampard who departed the club on Monday.

Tuchel was most recently in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. During his time there, PSG dominated domestically, as well as reaching last year’s Champions League final which they lost to Bayern Munich. Prior to taking over in Paris, he was Jurgen Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund.

Tuchel has signed an 18-month contract at Stamford Bridge, and revealed his delight in an interview with the club’s website.

“I would like to thank Chelsea FC for their confidence in me and my staff,” he said.

“We all have the greatest respect for Frank Lampard’s work and the legacy he created at Chelsea. At the same time, I cannot wait to meet my new team and compete in the most exciting league in football. I am grateful to now be part of the Chelsea family – it feels amazing!”

Director Marina Granovskaia added: “It is never easy to change head coach in the middle of the season but we are very happy to secure one of Europe’s best coaches in Thomas Tuchel. There is still much to play for and much to achieve, this season and beyond. We welcome Thomas to the club.”

Thomas Tuchel
Tuchel has a reputation as an intelligent tacticia | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Chelsea went on to confirm that Tuchel would lead his first training session on Tuesday evening, before taking charge of his first match against Wolves a day later.

Chelsea currently sit ninth in the Premier League having won just one of their last eight games. Tuchel’s first task will be to get the club back on track domestically, while his predecessor had safely guided the Blues to the last 16 of the Champions League, where they will face Atlético Madrid in February.

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Twitter reacts as Thomas Tuchel is announced as new Chelsea manager

Well, that’s it.

The worst kept secret in football is out. Thomas Tuchel has been confirmed as the new Chelsea manager, succeeding club legend Frank Lampard.

Despite their understandably angry reaction to Frank Lampard’s departure on Monday, Blues fans were quick to get behind their new man, taking to social media to voice their support.

Of course, with any managerial announcement, there were a few naysayers questioning his suitability for the job.

Reports suggest the main reason Tuchel has been brought in is to get the best out of Chelsea’s considerable German investment. Namely, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

Opinion was mixed over whether he would be able to get Chelsea’s big money signings firing…

Regardless of whether Tuchel does get huge improvements out of Werner and Havertz, does anyone out there really expect the combative German to spend more than two years in west London?

A quick scan of Twitter suggests: probably not, no.

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