When Manchester United signed Edinson Cavani at the end of the transfer window, his arrival was met with ridicule. And in the circumstances, it was probably fair.
It was, after all, Jadon Sancho who was earmarked for their iconic number seven shirt – not a 33-year-old who’d barely kicked a ball in the last year.
Nevertheless, in came Cavani: an obvious, reactionary signing who didn’t necessarily fit whatever ‘plan’ United were trying to convince people they were following.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, was clear on two points. He insisted that Cavani was hungry to play for the club, and that he would offer them a game-changing new dimension in the final third once he got up to speed.
Sunday’s win over Southampton might just have proven him right.
United were naive in the first half. They weren’t terrible, but they were lightweight and soft-hearted. A streetwise, well-drilled Saints team pulled their pants down, for want of a better phrase, and went into the break 2-0 up and kicking themselves that they hadn’t scored more.
Enter Cavani, stage left, to absolutely tear s**t up.
The Uruguayan facilitated a change of shape and provided the sort of focal point that neither Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood could in the first 45. This allowed Rashford to drift wide and impact the play from the channels – a rehearsed plan B that, 45 or so minutes after Cavani’s introduction, would yield the winning goal.
The comeback started when a clearly ravenous Cavani drifted out onto the right to take the ball, before turning, driving, and picking out Bruno Fernandes with a delicious cross, who forced the ball over the line to get his side started – an hour into the game.
Then it was a scramble in the box following a long-range raker from Fernandes, which Cavani anticipated and launched himself at head first to equalise.
From there United were clearly baying for blood. And when Cavani darted towards the front post and stooped to meet Rashford’s floated cross, it was always squeezing in at Alex McCarthy’s near post.
This was a game that Manchester United without Cavani would certainly have lost. They weren’t even in the game at the break, but the introduction of their maligned summer signing turned it on its head and provided the sort of result that could be massive come the end of the season.
It doesn’t seem as if Cavani will start many games in the Premier League, especially with Greenwood re-emerging and Anthony Martial to come back in. If his value is to keep the bar high and save games from the bench when things aren’t going their way, however, then it may prove to be a better signing than any gave it credit for.