Football Features

Edinson Cavani drags Manchester United to lucky 1-1 draw at Newcastle to prove he, not Ronaldo, is the striker they need

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:22, 27 December 2021

Edinson Cavani earned Manchester United a lucky point as they drew 1-1 with Newcastle as a raucous St. James’ Park.

The Magpies came into the game having lost three straight games, conceding 11 goals in the process and scoring just once, yet they absolutely played their illustrious visitors off the park for the vast majority of the night’s action.

With the exception of David de Gea, none of the starters can really have said they played well. In fact they were lucky that, after scoring a sensational opening goal, Allan Saint-Maximin didn’t bury them completely when he missed a massive chance at the start of the second-half.

Yet they walk away with a point and the chance to keep building under new manager Ralf Rangnick. And they were able to do that because of their veteran striker… Edinson Cavani.

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Cristiano Ronaldo was this summer’s big buy as The Red Devils unleashed a torrent of nostalgia that would make Spider-Man: No Way Home wince. And for sure, the Portuguese superstar has scored an awful lot of goals (13 at present), but he’s also made United much worse as a cohesive team as the sheer weight of his presence crushed the already fragile house of cards Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had constructed.

That’s not even necessarily a flaw for the Portuguese; anyone who has watched Cristiano over the last few years knows what you need to get the best out of him. What Cristiano can do and what he cannot do is no secret, United knew the player they were signing, warts and all.

Tonight at St. James’ Park it was nothing but warts as the Portuguese slumped around the pitch looking like a stroppy teenager upset that he’s been forced to talk to Grandma over Christmas. He offered nothing defensively except one shocking tackle that could have seen him sent off, his passing and link-play was largely poor, but of course all of that could have been forgiven if he had done what he has done all season: score. But not only did he fail to score, he to fail to even look like he’d score. He had just 2 shots all game, none on target, and he fail to even connect with a glorious Mason Greenwood cross that, in former years, he’d have buried.

That lack of pace and movement meant he couldn’t function as an attacking presence and did little to threaten Newcastle.

Then Cavani came on.

The Uruguayan is everything Cristiano isn’t. A ferocious physical presence when he’s fit to play, Cavani shows little signs of age as he tears around the pitch pressing relentlessly. His introduction at half-time dramatically upped the tempo United played at, and gave them a focal point at the head of attack, meaning they could actually threaten Newcastle.

In his 45 minutes on the field, Cavani had 5 shots, a game-high. He missed a sitter, scored the United equaliser and lobbed the goalkeeper (albeit without enough force to reach the goal-line). He was all-action, or as Martin Tyler called him on commentary: “a warrior.”

The energy Cavani put into the game radiated throughout the United side and that, coupled with Bruno Fernandes playing deeper and thus providing United with actual progressive passing from midfield, gave United enough momentum that they could and should have won before fading physically in the last five minutes when David de Gea had to go Superman to preserve the point.

Edinson Cavani is the veteran centre-forward this young Manchester United side need. A hard-working selfless warrior who makes his team-mates better, not an ageing superstar like Cristiano Ronaldo, football’s black hole: a tremendously powerful force that warps and distorts everything around him in a profoundly negative way.

Even Ronaldo’s only great performance for Manchester United, in the win against Spurs, came because he was playing next to Cavani. The Uruguayan is so good he can even help Cristiano shine in general play instead of just goalscoring.

If Ralf Rangnick truly wants to make Manchester United play his kind of football then he needs to drop Cristiano Ronaldo for Edinson Cavani. If he doesn’t it’s very hard to see how The Red Devils could produce anything like the level they need to get back into the Champions League for next season.