It was an inauspicious start. Despite presumably being told he was going on at the beginning of half-time, Edinson Cavani was not ready to take his place on the field until the second period had begun. Manchester United therefore began their attempted fightback from two goals down at St Mary’s with 10 men.
Had that fightback been unsuccessful, Cavani’s failure to source adequate footwear during the interval might have been held up as an example of why United’s mentality was not right. As it was, the veteran Uruguayan was the star of their comeback, scoring two goals and providing an assist as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side ran out 3-2 winners over Southampton.
This was United’s fourth away victory in a row. Remarkably, they conceded the first goal in each of those games. Doubts remain over Solskjaer’s suitability for the role but no one can say he has lost the backing of the dressing room.
United had opportunities in the first half, although most of them came about because of Southampton errors. Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes were all unable to capitalise and Solskjaer was right to introduce Edinson Cavani at the break after Jan Bednarek’s header and James Ward-Prowse’s brilliant free-kick had given Saints a commanding lead.
Cavani proved transformative. He immediately provided United with more of a presence up front and his appetite for hard work was clear as he harried Southampton’s defenders and chased back into midfield when required. His first act of significance came from the right flank, where he delivered a fine cross for Bruno Fernandes to halve the deficit.
Cavani’s second Premier League goal – his first came in the 3-1 triumph over Everton earlier this month – was not far away. Alex McCarthy could only push the ball to the edge of the box from a United corner, and Fernandes sent a shot back into a crowded penalty area. It was not a clean hit from the Portuguese and his effort took a deflection but Cavani was on hand to steer the ball home with his head. It was a classic example of an experienced striker being in the right place at the right time.
However, Cavani was not done there. With United pushing for a winner as injury time approached, the former PSG marksman stooped low to head Marcus Rashford’s centre past McCarthy and into the back of the net. United’s comeback was complete, and they had their summer signing to thank.
Eyebrows were raised when United completed a deal for Edison Cavani in October. No one doubted the 33-year-old’s quality but many wondered whether he would be able to thrive in the Premier League after a season on the bench in Ligue 1. Moreover, United’s completion of the deal at the end of the transfer window prompted questions, given that Cavani’s departure from PSG had been agreed in the middle of June.
It is still early days, but Cavani has already made an impact at the club and could prove an inspired piece of business. Greenwood, Rashford and Anthony Martial are excellent players in the own right but none serves as a focal point for the attack in the way Edinson Cavani does. The Uruguayan has a fantastic scoring record over the last decade (104 goals in 138 games for Napoli, and 200 in 301 for PSG) and brings trophy-winning experience to the dressing room and an ingrained work ethic to the pitch.
“He’s got all the attributes of a top-class footballer,” Solskjaer said. “He’s had a great career and scored goals wherever he’s been. He’s so meticulous with his preparation, with his recovery. And to have that focal point in the box, we haven’t really had that since Romelu left.”
“Edinson has been around the block, he’s scored so many goals, he’s been between those posts so many times. He reminds me of Andy [Cole] with his movement inside the box: so clever, so sharp. He’s seen that cross before, he knows what moment to move. And his best friend in the box – as Sir Alex always used to tell me – is space. Anthony, Marcus, Mason are different kinds of strikers. It gives us a great balance.”
The exploits of Edinson Cavani at St Mary’s will surely earn him a run in United’s first team, starting with PSG’s visit Old Trafford on Wednesday. The 33-year-old will not be short of motivation against his former club.
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