By Our Reporter
Manchester United have Edinson Cavani to thank for saving them from being embarrassed at Southampton in the Premier League on Sunday, after the game ended Southampton 2-3 Man Utd, yet the latter had scored first.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows a thing or two about making a difference from the bench, and he’ll have been delighted with the impact of super sub Edinson Cavani on Sunday. But how did the striker turn it around for Manchester United at Southampton?
Solskjaer’s side were trailing to two moments of James Ward-Prowse set-piece magic at half-time, after the Saints midfielder’s corner was headed in by Jan Bednarek before he scored himself with a free-kick.
The United boss turned to Cavani. The Uruguayan was still doing up his boots on the side of the pitch when the second half kicked off but he was soon up to speed and with two impressive finishes and an assist for Bruno Fernandes the 33-year-old showed why he could be a shrewd signing.
It was the second time a United player had come on as a substitute and directly had a hand in three or more goals in a Premier League match. The first? Solskjaer himself, who scored four at Nottingham Forest in February 1999.
Edinson Cavani struggled to sort his boots out when he came on at half time, but he ended up not needing them as two headed goals grabbed Man Utd a victory late on.
Unlike a substitute called for in the heat of the action, Cavani had the majority of the half-time break to prepare for his introduction at the start of the second half. Yet somehow, despite all of his experience, he was changing his boots on the touchline as the game got back underway.
“How the guy is not prepared and ready to go on, it’s mind-boggling,” said a less than impressed Roy Keane, although Solskjaer later suggested Cavani realised he’d need bigger studs.
Just 11 minutes into the second half, Cavani got a chance. Southampton ‘keeper Alex McCarthy tipped Fernandes’ cross into the path of Donny Van de Beek who knocked it on. Cavani was there with a swivel and shot but it flew over the bar after clipping a Southampton defender on the way through.
On 59 minutes Cavani helped get Manchester United back into the game.
Fred and Aaron Wan-Bissaka won it back in midfield, with Cavani involved in the build-up. The striker was then fed on the right flank by Wan-Bissaka and got room ahead of him to attack the Southampton box.
He looked up and measured a bending pass into the feet of Fernandes eight yards out who turned and scored.
Cavani averaged around five or six assists per season for Paris St-Germain in his peak – and he showed he still has the eye and craft to create for others with that cross for Fernandes. With United pressing for an equaliser a half-chance falls to Cavani.
Boss Solskjaer was also impressed. “He’s a centre forward who thrives on crosses and delivery in the box. He has been in there for so many years, and he’s made a difference today.”
When Manchester United signed Cavani on Deadline Day critics suggested the 33-year-old, who had been a free agent since the summer after leaving PSG, was an expensive gamble, due to the wages he’d command and his age.
But Solskjaer was convinced he would have a positive impact on the young strikers at United and also insisted Cavani would make the difference for the team in key moments, such as on Sunday.
“He’ll bring energy, power, leadership and a great mentality to the squad but, most importantly, he’ll bring goals,” said Solskjaer when Cavani was signed.