Football Features

“In every possible way, he has been worth the wait” – Winners and Losers as Cavani sinks Saints in super sub showing at St. Mary’s

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:32, 29 November 2020

In a thrilling afternoon of football, Manchester United came from 2-0 down to win 2-3 against Southampton.

The win vaults United up the table into 7th place and makes it three consecutive wins for The Red Devils. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Edinson Cavani

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a risk at half-time when he sent on Edinson Cavani (and Dean Henderson). The Uruguayan is obviously a great striker but he hasn’t yet fired in the Premier League the way he has in the Champions League. Still, Solskjaer had to do something.

Instantly you could see the value of Cavani’s ceaseless movement. On the ball, off the ball, he was just relentless and Southampton couldn’t get a hold on him no matter how hard they tried. That movement meant he was always alive, always in space.

Whether that was out wide in space to pick out Bruno Fernandes for United’s first goal. Or whether he was making a run to follow in Fernandes’ shot and thus found himself perfectly place to head home the equaliser. Or his delightful near-post run that allowed him to head home so sweetly to win the game for United. Cool, calm and collected.

At 33, he took his time getting to the Premier League. With Covid protocols, he took his time making his United debut. Thanks to his shoelaces, he took his time coming onto the field today. But in every possible way, Edinson Cavani has been worth the wait.

Loser: Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood was absolutely lights out last season. An absolutely lethal striker who seemed to constantly turn half-chances into goals. He scored 17 times in all competitions and United never really played in a way which “created” looks for him.

Today he had two outstanding chances to shoot 1v1 with Alex McCarthy and missed them both. First he was clean through and rounded McCarthy well but took an extra touch and tightened the angle, meaning his shot curled into the side-netting rather than the net.

Then later an awful pass from McCarthy went straight to Greenwood who ran through 1v1 and yet blasted the ball straight at the goalkeeper, allowing for an easy save (Bruno Fernandes missed the rebound).

That he was replaced by Cavani, who then literally drove United on to win the game makes it a bad afternoon for Greenwood (but all is not lost he now has at least six months of training with Cavani, learning from the great Uruguayan).

Winner: James Ward-Prowse

Some players just fly under the radar for so long that you almost forget how good they actually are. James Ward-Prowse is one such player, but his set-piece mastery (which has long been a thing) has been so terrifyingly omnipresent this season that you can’t help but feel that recognition on a big scale isn’t far off.

Ward-Prowse marked the first-half of this game with two sublime swings of his right foot, first his delicious whipped corner kick right into the perfect spot for Jan Bednarek to head the ball home. It was too far out for David de Gea to get it, but just enough to tempt an uncertain goalkeeper like De Gea into exposing himself.

Second, was his goal. His fourth goal in his last five games (to go with two assists in that time). A beautiful pinged free-kick that managed to both put his side 2-0 up and injure David de Gea in the process. That it ended up on the losing side was the only problem with it.

Loser: David de Gea

Now, you could argue that neither of the goals Southampton scored in the first-half were technically errors from David de Gea. The set-piece delivery from James Ward-Prowse on both was immense. Yet the way De Gea dealt with them left you wondering why he didn’t do better.

The corner that led to Southampton’s opener was very well worked, and Ward-Prowse’s delivery was sublime, and it’s unlikely that De Gea could have gone over the top of his defenders to claim the cross, but the thing is he came off his line. Or started to, anyway, before hesitating. And that hesitation is what allowed the header to go in. Had he stayed on his line, he would have been in a great position to save it.

The free-kick is less egregious as Ward-Prowse curls it just inside the post, but even then De Gea had time to get across but did so so slowly and with a weak wrist so couldn’t keep the ball out even though it wasn’t hit with that much power. The Spaniard injured himself doing this as his knee collided with the post and it forced him to go off. And in his stead Dean Henderson

Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It’s not often Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets to claim that he made the right tactical decisions in a game to outsmart and outflank his opposite number. Last season, for instance, Ralph Hasenhuttle torpedoed United’s hot-streak with something as simple as a mid-block press.

Today however, Solskjaer deployed a midfield diamond with two mobile forwards that not only allowed United to more or less cope with Saints in midfield but also pull their defenders all over the place and create spaces for players to run into.

United should have scored multiple times first-half but got clipped by set-piece wizardry and weak goalkeeping. So changes had to be made, and they were. Solskjaer acted decisively, removing David de Gea and Mason Greenwood for Dean Henderson and Edinson Cavani.

At the back Henderson brought an assurance and vocality that De Gea often lacks. The young Englishman was constantly driving his team forward and that kind of leadership is sorely missing. And then Cavani? Well, one assist and two goals to win the game. The first substitute to be directly involved in 3+ goals off the bench since… Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against Nottingham Forest, 21 years ago.

There’s poetry, and then there’s that.

Loser: Jan Bednarek

The giant Polish defender is a quality presence at the back for Southampton. He doesn’t score many, in fact he has scored just three Premier League goals with Southampton, but the results when he does score is a bit… well…

First he scored to put Southampton 2-0 up against Chelsea, but Chelsea won the game 2-3. Then he put Saints 1-0 up against Wolves (they were 2-0 up at half-time), but that game also ended 2-3. Then today, his wonderful header made it 1-0, Saints were again two-up by the break, and the final score was?

Next time he should probably just look for the pass.