Eyebrows were certainly raised when Manchester United announced the signing of Edinson Cavani.
A name that carries great respect in the game, but a 33-year-old free-agent arriving on deadline day does not exactly fit the criteria of what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been trying to rebuild his squad with. The fact that the Uruguayan was unavailable for two weeks upon his arrival in England, due to quarantine restrictions, perhaps suggests that he wasn’t the first-choice attacking option – prior to joining, Cavani had been available since August.
After a frustrating summer, how the deal panned out was rather symbolic of just just how incompetent the club’s planning can be, but despite Cavani’s conflicting profile with the fellow younger recruits, there were certainly positives to take with the new signing.
Goals and experience were the two obvious traits that the striker was tipped to inject into United’s squad, and it hasn’t taken long for the side to reap the rewards of the veteran’s presence. Writing on the back of United’s 3-2 win over Southampton, it’s a difficult task in trying to summarise the striker’s performance into words – no superlative is quite fitting to tribute just how good Cavani was.
In a nutshell, the 33 year old saved the day for the Red Devils. Trailing 2-0 at half-time, United were failing to click inside the final third, with Solskjaer opting for the striker to take centre stage through the middle. Dropping deep to see the ball, Cavani quickly asserted himself as the team’s focal point, allowing others to work around his touches.
His touchmap below in Southampton’s half (via WhoScored) highlights his desire to sacrifice attacking positions to gain possession, which granted space for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes to exploit.
United’s first goal came from Bruno surging inside the box, with Cavani drifting out to the right. The latter picked up the ball unmarked and fed in the midfielder – a much-needed strike to get United back into the game. Prior to the Uruguayan’s introduction, Fernandes’ link-up and presence was relatively scarce.
As the shape inside the final third started to take place, Donny van de Beek’s influence also began to grow, and United began to dictate. It somewhat felt inevitable that a turnaround was going to happen, reminiscent to September 2012 – Robin van Persie was the catalyst that day, and the comeback this time was also lead by an experienced striker up-top.
Cavani’s cameos have quickly shown what his hold-up play can bring to the side, a bit of assurance and neat touches have provided direction in the attacking zones, which is usually comprised of energetic frontrunners, from United’s perspective. Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Rashford all prefer to maintain a high positioning, running onto through balls and setting a tone from the off with their attacking sprints.
The 33-year-old offers a different dimension, but this doesn’t prevent him from scoring goals. The latter is a crucial aspect as to why the club brought the free-agent in – Solskjaer demands a goalscoring instinct from his frontmen, and Cavani is no doubt the superior man in this department.
Both his goals against Southampton were purely birthed from his own movement – two flash headers inside the area in what can only be categorised at best as two ‘half-chances’. He strived to get inside the area against Everton and was also rewarded, not to mention when he nearly scored with his first-touch for the club against Chelsea.
They say class is permanent, and Cavani no doubt still proudly possesses the label in being a proper poacher. We are very early on in his Old Trafford career, but such qualities will have Solskjaer re-thinking his starting XI.
Upon his arrival, many drew comparisons to the disappointing Falcao. Another household name whose better days are behind him, coming to Manchester for one last pay day and to see out his final years at Old Trafford. This couldn’t be further from the truth. El Matdaor is raring to go.