Manchester United have had to wait for Edinson Cavani. They had to wait while he was self-isolating after his arrival in the North West. They had to wait while he worked up his match fitness. And they had to wait while he put his boots on on the St Mary’s touchline on Sunday.
But all the waiting has been worthwhile. Cavani’s failure to be ready to come on at half-time was the type of moment that seemed to sum United up after a disappointing first 45 minutes on the South Coast. In the end Jonathan Moss got fed up of waiting for the 33-year-old to get his boots in order and set the second half underway.
By full-time that had long been forgotten. Cavani is unlikely to be introduced as a half-time substitute again anytime soon. He’ll need to be ready for kick-off from now on.
The doubts when United broke their transfer strategy of pursuing a younger profile of signings to land the Uruguayan on a free transfer at the end of the summer window have quickly been dispelled.
Cavani took his first United goal – away at Everton – very well and then was impressive in his first start against Istanbul Baskasehir in midweek. So impressive, in fact, that he was probably unfortunate not to be starting against Southampton. That mistake was rectified at 2-0 down but thanks to the former Paris Saint-Germain striker the game was not over.
He created the goal for Bruno Fernandes that got United back in the contest before showing his anticipation to head home the Portuguese’s shot to equalise. It was another brilliant centre forward run that sealed victory, Cavani glancing a near-post header in from Marcus Rashford’s cross.
When United signed Cavani back in September the club insisted he remained hungry to make an impact in the Premier League, that he didn’t see this as a final payday, but wanted to leave his mark on Old Trafford. He could be another Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United officials said. More like another Falcao, sighed critics of the deal after a disappointing transfer window.
Yet a couple of months later Cavani is already on the way to replicating the impact of Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford. United’s transfer window might not have been perfect, but this could turn out to be a very astute deal.
Both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Harry Maguire waxed lyrical about Cavani’s movement after the game. Solskjaer celebrated the striker’s desire to play between the posts, while Maguire painted a picture of what it was like for a defender to have play against that threat.
“His movement when the ball is wide is of a level not many strikers can reach, he’s always on the move, he’s always getting across people and that’s why he’s always scored goals,” the United captain said. “It’s great for our strikers to learn from him in training. He’s a nightmare to mark in training as well.”
That movement was key for both of Cavani’s goals and after the week he’s had he looks undroppable for United right now, it’s simply a question of who plays around him. His presence also gives Fernandes another target to aim for and United another dimension to their play, with a striker likely to stay around the confines of the penalty box, rather than drift wide as Rashford and Anthony Martial do so often.
After 304 goals in 439 games for Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain Cavani’s quality was never in doubt, but like Ibrahimovic before him he was often underrated by a domestic audience because he’d rarely done it against a Premier League side in Europe.
Ibrahimovic’s response to that was to come and show the Premier League what they’d been missing. It seems Cavani might be taking a similar approach.
Really, his quality has never in question. Whether he fits into this United side and if he had the motivation to commit to what looks a longer-term project were the real unknowns over this transfer. Consider those questions answered now. Cavani could be just what United have needed.