With the kind of attacking options Manchester United have, it is easy to forget that they also have Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan is a proven world-class goalscorer even at his advanced age. However, he is currently a squad player for United.
He recalled his skills in the team’s 3–0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. And while it is true that Spurs are by no means a top side now, his partnership with Ronaldo offered a glimpse of what United could be.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 31, 2021
Often this season United haven’t looked like the same side. An unkind viewer might argue that United are now nothing more than a collection of top-class players; And in many ways they would not be wrong.
But even so, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job will be to find a solution. And Cavani may very well have provided him one – even for the short term.
back three one hit strategy
Against Spurs, Solskjaer reverted to an attacking wing-back and filled out the midfield. It was a theoretical 3-5-2, with Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo both up front. Just behind him was Bruno Fernandes in a floating role.
One of the reasons it worked so well against Spurs – aside from the fact that Nuno Espirito Santo’s men look very confused at this point – was because it played to everyone’s strengths.
Ronaldo was given a freer role, while Cavani’s hard work ensured that the Portuguese’s lack of running was made up for. Meanwhile, Fernandes could move back into midfield to fill in the numbers with Scott McTominay and Fred.
The defense looked much more assured under Raphael Varane. And wingbacks Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw did well to move up and down the flanks and fill in whenever possible.
It might be tempting to think that Cavani was not central to the plan, but he was. Without him being able to link up play between Ronaldo and the midfield, the attack could have fallen apart.
And without his hard-hitting runs when United were out of possession, United could have looked disorganized in midfield and upfront. One of United’s biggest issues has been the lack of a coordinated press.
With Cavani up front, it becomes somewhat easier to attempt to push opponents back – even without a co-ordinated press, United still lack something.
Of course, that’s not the only way United can use the veteran striker’s all-round play to good effect.
Edinson Cavani a solid #9 option ahead of Ronaldo
Now that doesn’t mean United should ditch Ronaldo and feed in Cavani instead. But, using Cavani as the focal point of the attack and shifting Ronaldo to the left could also make a difference.
As mentioned earlier, Ronaldo is often a stable presence up front. He comes with a guarantee of goals but little in terms of all-round play.
In contrast, Cavani is a more complete player. Not only will he link the game better, but he will also look to press and even chase lost causes when needed.
It’s also worth noting that Ronaldo’s best work comes with hardworking strikers. During his first stint at United, players such as Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez covered ground that Ronaldo had not.
At Real Madrid, Ronaldo worked excellently with the Frenchman’s movement and work-rate key, Karim Benzema, to accommodate the Portuguese star.
Not only that, he can fit into Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation or even a 4-3-3 formation. This is not the main issue.
United still have a lot of problems
The issue at Manchester United right now is that they have too many players. Maybe one or two more than necessary. This problem of abundance requires an immediate solution when the time comes – preferably January.
The second point is that United need to focus on the present and build for the future. Cavani and Ronaldo are on the wrong side of 30, after all.
And United’s young forwards – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood – are in dire need of playing time. And, for that matter, a gameplan that brings out the best in them.
Greenwood has scored goals so far this season but there remains a feeling he could do more. Sancho’s start to life at Old Trafford has been anything but ideal. And Rashford is back from injury and will need to rejoin the team.
However, the current focus should be on the short term. A 5–0 defeat to Liverpool led many to believe that Solskjaer was in his final stages as United manager.
And while reports of his death proved to be greatly exaggerated, even he knows that management is a results-first business and nothing else.
In that search for a short-term boost, Edinson Cavani could be exactly what Solskjaer – and Manchester United – need.