Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

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Cavani showed he can be Man United’s focal point vs Istanbul Basaksehir

4 min read

A new attacking option

Manchester United had what looked like a settled front three when football resumed post-lockdown in June, with Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all in fine form.

They’ve not kicked on as a unit this season, however, with Martial missing games through suspension and Greenwood illness. That trio have started together only twice this season and one of those only lasted for 28 minutes when Martial was sent off against Spurs.

Martial and Rashford have been joined by Juan Mata for the previous three games but it hadn’t really worked as a trio. Edinson Cavani had been biding his time as an impact sub but when he did start nobody expected him to play with the two regulars from last season’s attacking unit.

But it worked on Tuesday and while Istanbul Basaksehir were compliant opponents there was a lot to like about the way they linked up and all tried to get into the penalty area. Cavani was the perfect focal point for the attack, bringing Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and Martial into play. The two wide men played narrow, allowing full-backs to get forward where possible and stretch the play.

Rashford isn’t a natural right-winger and using him in that role is a square peg in a round hole, but United’s failure to land Jadon Sancho in the summer has led Solskjaer to look for makeshift solutions.

On this evidence, a trio of three players who could all play as the centre forward might be United’s best attacking unit for now. There will certainly be goals in it.


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Fernandes’ record

We’ve become accustomed to seeing Fernandes do remarkable things for Manchester United, but the fact Old Trafford regulars have only seen him play live four times is a sobering reminder of how much supporters are missed – and are missing – at games.

The news that some fans could be allowed back in grounds from next month is to be welcomed but it won’t feel like normality again until there’s 76,000 back inside Old Trafford raising the roof when Fernandes produces those moments of brilliance.

Fernandes had played nine games for United in total when the season was halted and it already looked like he was going to be a fixture in this side for years to come. His following 26 games for the club have come in empty stadiums but that hasn’t seen his performance levels drop – if anything they’ve increased.

He has 18 goals in those 26 games, a staggering figure for an attacking midfielder, and nine more assists as well. Now all he needs is an audience.

The benefit of five subs

The Premier League continues to drag its feet over the use of five substitutes but UEFA saw sense at the start of the season and Solskjaer was grateful for that rule last night.

While his starting line-up showed how fearful he was that a good start to the group with wins against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig could fall apart, it was a risk given the congested schedule, with just two changes to the side that beat West Brom on Saturday.

But with the game won by half-time he could make changes quickly to rest players. By the hour mark Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Fernandes and Rashford had all been replaced. An ideal night’s work.

Henderson’s future

When it was suggested in Monday’s pre-match press conference that this might be Dean Henderson’s only opportunity for a start before the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Everton on December 23 Solskjaer strongly disagreed, insisting games would come for the academy graduate given the congested schedule.

Which made it even stranger that Henderson wasn’t trusted with the gloves at Old Trafford last night. Had United won in Istanbul three weeks ago he would surely have kept his place but he was blameless that night and is as high a quality No.2 goalkeeper as you’re going to get in the Premier League, so to leave him out made little sense.

Henderson remained at Old Trafford this summer to challenge David de Gea, but when he’s denied opportunities like this to play and put pressure on the Spaniard, it would be little surprise if he was considering his own future already. Keeping two goalkeepers of the quality of De Gea and Henderson is no easy task, especially when opportunities like this to play the No.2 are passed up.

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Old Trafford form

There’s been a lot of concern about United’s home form this season but the win against Istanbul Basaksehir made it three wins in their last four at Old Trafford in all competitions.

That’s a positive return, even if the defeat to Arsenal and failure to beat Chelsea stung a little, and Solskjaer will hope it makes his squad feel more comfortable in their home surroundings.

Playing in such a cavernous, empty stadium is an unusual experience and it certainly helps the visiting teams, but United’s return to form at home and their strong defensive record in recent Old Trafford games are a good sign.

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