Sat. Oct 31st, 2020

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Cavani’s Man United transfer can elevate Marcus Rashford’s game once more

4 min read

“I believe there are some who are born with talent, who have been touched by God’s magic wand and who have class from a young age,” Edinson Cavani told Marca in February in 2018.

The player in question? Kylian Mbappe, who was halfway through his first season as a 19-year-old sensation with Paris Saint-Germain.

Cavani continued: “Mbappe, for example, is a player who has enormous potential and who is acquiring experience. He’s already a worldwide figure, but it’s up to him to be more and more. He is very young, even though he is recognised around the globe.

“To be a world-class name you can’t just be a great player, but you also need to have personality and a certain behaviour and education. That’s how you make it. That’s the footballing life.”

Five months later, Mbappe scored in the World Cup final as France were crowned world champions off the back of a series of impressive performances from the now 21-year-old superstar.

At that point, though, Mbappe was still carving out his path in senior football. He had exploded onto the scene the previous season with Monaco, netting 15 Ligue 1 goals. But alongside Neymar and Cavani, he would flourish for PSG, scoring 13 times in his first season with the club before adding 33 in a brilliant second campaign.

While Mbappe is a unique footballer that few others in the world compare to, of those that have been likened to the French flyer, Manchester United trio Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood certainly are among them.

Like Mbappe, they are all exceptionally quick. They like to receive passes behind opposing backlines or quickly into their feet, where they can subsequently drive at an isolated defender, invariably skipping by them.

They are sharp, agile dribblers, lethal in one-on-one situations. They wreak havoc, are vicious on the counter-attack, and are becoming increasingly prolific.

Mbappe flourished as a part of attacking trident with PSG. With Cavani leading the line and Neymar and Mbappe afforded the freedom to drift inside from wide positions, PSG ripped through Ligue 1 with a series of scintillating attacking performances.

In the 2017/18 campaign, the Parisians scored 100 league goals. Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe combined for 60.

The next season, PSG struck 103 times. This time, Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe contributed 66 goals. Other than Angel di Maria, no other player scored more than three.

In these two seasons with Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe leading the line, PSG were frightening, and it all stemmed from the link-up play of these excellent attackers.

It is what Manchester United might now look to replicate this season.

Of course, the 33-year-old will not necessarily be the regular starter. Martial has made the number nine position his own over the past year, with Rashford and Greenwood flanking him.

Nevertheless, the Uruguayan offers terrific experience in playing alongside and getting the most from explosive attacking players. And if he slides into the United line-up, either in place of Martial or from off the bench, he will undoubtedly aid the attacking unit.

Off the ball, Cavani is an excellent mover. Deceptively quick and athletic, he brings superb timing with his runs. He often drifts off centre-backs, moves into wide positions, darts behind opposing backlines and will routinely drop into midfield to receive the ball.

Such a well-rounded central presence is ideal for wide players. In moving off the ball, Cavani creates space for those around him. By dropping deep, centre-backs often have no attacker to mark. This sometimes brings them higher up the pitch and opens up channels for wide forwards to burst into.

Similarly, Cavani’s willingness to chase lost causes and drift into the flanks allows wide forwards to move into central zones without sacrificing the overall offensive width.

One specific movement that Mbappe utilised extensively at PSG was an outside-to-inside run that started from the flank and moved between the full-back and centre-back, collecting a through pass from midfield.

It worked so brilliantly because of Cavani’s prior movements, manipulating the defenders into uncomfortable positions and opening up spaces for his team-mates.

It is a run that Rashford has become famous for off the left flank at United, and represents how neatly he and Cavani could link up as the spearhead of United’s attack.

Martial, too, has experience as an inverted wide player, while Greenwood loves to cut inside from the right flank on his left side.

With Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba capable of picking out precise through passes between the opposing defence, feeding these runners off the ball, it is easy to see how United could field a mobile, direct, and dangerous attack.

And so, by considering the success of PSG’s attack with Cavani, Mbappe and Neymar, it is reasonable to portray similar prolificacy in Manchester.

Certainly, Rashford, Greenwood and Martial will be salivating at the prospect of playing alongside Cavani, and United could be the benefactors of a new-look attacking unit.

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