There was a slight danger that Edinson Cavani’s first touch for Manchester United might end up as his best touch.
After the Uruguayan nearly flicked United into the lead against Chelsea on debut, ghosting in at the near post and nearly beating Eduoard Mendy, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side then saw precious little of Cavani.
He looked ineffectual when coming off the bench against Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir, after the linesman’s flag rightly denied Cavani a goal in the 5-0 rout of RB Leipzig. Those who doubted the addition of Cavani on deadline day were beginning to prepare their ‘I told you so’ speeches, until Bruno Fernandes selflessly rolled once into the 33-year-old’s path in the final minute of the Everton game.
A red card on international duty against Brazil does not seem to have knocked Cavani’s confidence, just like his slow start for United did not either. He’s far too experienced for that.
In any case, Cavani’s role for Solskjaer’s men may soon have to change, from impact sub to integral starting striker. Anthony Martial is having one of those spells that Anthony Martial is prone to, much to the chagrin of his many enthusiastic backers. So United need Cavani, who in his past two substitute appearances has proven he can fit into Solskjaer’s preferred tactical approach.
The former Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain player has always been an all-action striker, possessing the full gamut of attacking attributes.
Don’t be fooled by his 6ft 1in frame. This is not just a target man. Solskjaer knew that when sanctioning the one-year deal for Cavani after a frustrating summer search for forward recruits.
That is why the Norwegian bullishly predicted that Cavani would score goals by the bucketload.
“He has clever movements, great runs,” Solskjaer said after Cavani’s strike at Everton.
“He is an experienced centre-forward and the more we get the ball into him in and around the box we will get some goals from him. He has come in and had a great influence on the training ground already but we know he needs game time to get his sharpness.”
It may well be the perfect time to start Cavani, as United prepare to face Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday night.
They have been short of goals at Old Trafford this season, with only Donny van de Beek scoring a home strike from open play so far. And against the physical and street-smart Turkish side — with ex Liverpool veteran Martin Skrtel in the heart of their defence — Cavani could be key. He can play with his back to goal, get on the end of crosses, as well as play the ‘Solskjaer way’ and get involved in fast fluid attacks.
The other reason of course why Cavani is needed right now, is for pure experience. United look unstructured and a little raw in attack right now and you feel Martial, Marcus Rashford and especially Mason Greenwood still need the guidance of an older head like the Uruguay talisman. Solskjaer has noted that, too.
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Manchester United ground out a 1-0 win over West Brom to finally notch a victory at home in the Premier League this season.
It wasn’t pretty but it means two successive wins for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who have to balance league and Champions League commitments over a busy period in the coming weeeks.
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“In the squad you need a mix, a balance between experience and youth,” he said. “For our young players they have some great role models in Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, David de Gea, Edinson, the over 30s.
“We don’t have many of them but they’re very important. I like youth, I like enthusiasm, passion, but you need that experience as well. That’s why we brought Edinson in.”
All the signs point towards a first United start for Cavani on Tuesday night.
It could well allow supporters to see the full range of his skills and answer questions on why the veteran forward was brought to Old Trafford.
He is more than an Odion Ighalo upgrade, now he will get the chance to prove why.