Luther Blissett, Watford’s all-time record goalscorer, is not convinced Quique Sanchez Flores has yet found the best way to harness the strike pairing of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo.
Deeney played on his own up top against Everton, before Ighalo joined him off the bench, and spent the next two games, against West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, playing as the figurehead. Sanchez Flores then opted to play without a striker for the first half of the game at the Etihad Stadium.
However, since then Ighalo has provided the focal point of the attack with Deeney deployed in a more unfamiliar withdrawn role, more akin to that of a No 10.
“Ighalo has been excellent,” said Blissett on BT Sport. “But sometimes he [the head coach] hasn’t got it the right way round. For me Deeney has to be the point of the attack, with Ighalo off him, especially at home, as Deeney can hold the ball up. It’s been the other way round. Deeney doesn’t do that link play particularly well.”
Paul Robinson, the former Leeds United keeper who has faced plenty of top strikers in his time, is as surprised to see Deeney in the slightly more withdrawn role as he as the three assists he has to his name.
“You’d think he’d be covering the goalscoring burden but he’s creating more chances than he’s scoring himself,” said Robinson in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live.
The statistics suggest the recast partnership is working. Ighalo has scored six goals playing as the lone striker and Deeney has scored three in his last four, although two of those have been from the spot.
“We complement each other well,” said Deeney in the build-up to the United game. “We work in sync. I can’t give you a magic potion about how it works. We work well and, touch wood, it continues.”
Deeney agreed they “didn’t work out well at the start” of the Premier League season but Mark Hughes, the Stoke boss, is just one of several managers to talk about the problems they pose for central defenders.
“We understand each other as we’ve been playing together since the Championship,” Ighalo told BT Sport. “I hope we continue doing well because he’s a great striker. I like playing with him because he’s a strong guy and a top guy. I hope we keep playing together and do some harm to defences in the Premier League this season.”