Cavani's killer instinct can kickstart misfiring Man Utd's season

Edinson Cavani Manchester United 2020-21Getty Images

Given their recent history of signing experienced central strikers, there were understandably some eyebrows raised when Manchester United announced the signing of Edinson Cavani on transfer deadline day back in October.

Radamel Falcao's failure to ignite at Old Trafford was regularly cited when it came to analysing Cavani's arrival, with the Colombia star having struggled throughout his time with the Red Devils.

For Cavani, though, the early signs are that he can play a key role for this United team, even at the age of 33.

On a day when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side looked as if they would be punished for their own failures in front of goal by two set-piece strikes from Southampton at St Mary's Stadium, it was Cavani who emerged off the bench to ensure United's season continues to move in the right direction.

Brought on at half-time for Mason Greenwood, the former Paris Saint-Germain star put in a virtuoso performance as he played a part in all three goals of United's comeback from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 on the south coast.

It was the 10th time in Premier League history that United have come from behind to beat the Saints, and few will have been greeted with such a roar, even if the stadiums in England remain empty.

Solskjaer and his coaching staff could not hide their jubilation on the sideline as Cavani headed in the stoppage-time winner, with the veteran having shown the killer instinct that United have largely lacked throughout the domestic campaign thus far.

In his 45 minutes on the pitch, Cavani managed four shots. Starting strikers Greenwood and Marcus Rashford managed three between them in their combined 135 minutes on the field, with the Uruguayan's movement and positional awareness inside the penalty area ensuring United's attack had a clear focal point after the break.

It is an option that has been lacking for United over the past season or so, with neither Rashford, Greenwood nor Anthony Martial - who missed this game through illness - what one would describe as an out-and-out number nine.

"He's got all the attributes of a top-class footballer," Solskjaer said post-match. "He gave us a focal point in the box and we've not really had that since Romelu [Lukaku] left.

"Anthony, Marcus and Mason are different kind of strikers, so it gives us a great balance and a mix."

Much was made of what Cavani would be able to teach that trio on the training pitch following his arrival on a free transfer, but they may well end up being educated far more when they are on the field alongside him in competitive games.

Greenwood, Rashford and Bruno Fernandes all missed clear opportunities to score here before the latter finally found the net to bring United back into the game following Jan Bednarek and James Ward-Prowse's first-half goals for the hosts.

Fernandes' finish was precise, and came after Cavani drifted into space on the right-hand side before he curled in an inch-perfect cross to find the Portugal playmaker near the penalty spot.

Bruno Fernandes Edinson Cavani Southampton vs Man Utd Premier League 2020-21Getty Images

From there Cavani took over, with both his headed finishes showing that his nose for goal has far from disappeared despite him closing in on the twilight years of his career.

United have now won eight straight away games and are slowly climbing the table after their disappointing start to the campaign, with Cavani's goals surely having eased some of the pressure that remains on Solskjaer for now.

The last player before Cavani to come off the bench for United in a Premier League away game and provide at least one goal and an assist was Ruud van Nistelrooy against Charlton Athletic back in September 2002.

And while it is highly unlikely that the current United No.7 will match the 150 goals that Van Nistelrooy scored in a red shirt, he has all the capabilities to provide exactly the same kind of threat for opposition defences.

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