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Edinson Cavani: Tactical profile

Manchester United have signed former PSG striker Edinson Cavani on a free transfer. The Uruguayan spent seven seasons with French outfit Paris Saint-Germain and this will be his first stint at the Premier League. This calls for a broader understanding of what he can bring to Old Trafford. In this tactical profile, we will see some interesting attacking movements and how he can fit into Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s team.

Agile Striker

Edinson Cavani is not one of those strikers that just stand in one position and wait for opponents to make mistakes or for the odd loose ball to come to his feet. He rather creates chances and makes opponents falter with his sharp movements.

Last season, Cavani played second fiddle to Mauro Icardi who was on loan from Inter Milan. Despite that, Cavani made big impacts on the minutes he played-mostly as a substitute. This was largely because he had the acumen to make intelligent runs and leave his marker away which is a quality seen in his game for some time now.

Cavani is a master at getting behind defenders and going out of their sight. He uses several methods to deceive his marker and leave them behind to score crucial goals for the team he plays.

The use of feints and a deceptive run towards a direction before changing the course of his run to another makes it incredibly hard for opposition center-backs to mark him successfully. As result, he often finds himself in goalscoring positions.

Cavani likes to run towards the front post during crosses and corners to run away from his marker. He does so, repetitively yet perfectly as so often he manages to score a goal off his head beating the front post marker.

Attacking maestro

Edinson Cavani is long considered as good but not good enough to be the main man. Despite being bought for a fee of €64m the then highest fee paid for a player in France, he ultimately played second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovi?. As a result, he was transported to play on the left for PSG. This has been a trend seen even in the national team with Luis Suarez leading the attack.

However, one simply does not become ‘not good enough’ after scoring more than 350 goals in his career playing at the highest level. On the contrary, Edinson Cavani is a genius who has just not been given enough recognition from pandits and fans.

Cavani is the record goalscorer for Paris Saint-Germain with 200 career goals for the club and the player does so with some pedigree. He scores goals from left-foot, right-foot, and is equally adept with his head. Cavani is one nightmare for a goalkeeper. His stats speak volumes about the variety of goals he scores: right-footed- 149, headers scored- 49, and goals scored with left-footed shots- 46. The Uruguayan is also a very fine penalty taker who has a career penalty count of 50 goals.

But what makes Edinson Cavani so good?

Cavani is one striker who excels at making runs and getting off his markers which enables him to get into space and pull the trigger. With his quality finishing and elite movement, Cavani manages to remain on top of the goal-scoring charts.

The Uruguayan is an athletic presence in the box. Standing at a tall frame of 6ft with an athletic, lean yet powerful build, Cavani can attack crosses efficiently. He gets at the end of loose balls and his long reach enables him to get the vital goal. Besides the athleticism, Cavani possess the skill to take down balls with a good first touch and look for a killer angle to score. Due to his composure in front of the goal, Cavani was given the nickname “El Matador” (the bullfighter) during his time in Italy.

Team player

But Edinson Cavani is not just an out and out striker who only scores goals. His gameplay and stats suggest that he is a player who cares for the team.

In addition to his goal-scoring, the Uruguayan forward is known for his ability to create space for his teammates. He is a selfless passer and is not shy of passing his chance to another teammate who sits in a better position to score.

He supports the team well and is always willing to track back and defend. Cavani is often seen as the leader of the press and performs his duties well at the top.

El Matador has experienced several occasions where he has played second fiddle to superstar players but he hardly complains. With the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovi? being a constant during the early phase of his career and later the arrival of Neymar as the marquee signing, Cavani always found himself providing balls to them.

However, the greater the challenge, the bigger is Edinson Cavani’s leap. He largely remains unfazed by stardom on the pitch. He keeps his head down and continues to reach the targets for his team. His exceptional qualities on the pitch have also seen players like Angel Di Maria, Pablo Sarabia, and Kylian Mbappe benefit in the last few years.

Defensive work rate

Edinson Cavani is unlike strikers of this generation. His work rate off the ball is one for the youngsters to note and there’s a strong reason why Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone wanted the Uruguayan in his squad.

Atletico Madrid are a team known for their defensive prowess and so is Edinson Cavani. The striker is a strong runner who never gives up. For a long period of time, Cavani has played as a second striker in the teams he has been part of. As a result of not being the main striker, it becomes imperative that the second striker drops deep to pick up balls or sometimes even defend.

His willingness to defend is unusual for a striker. As seen mostly, strikers prefer to remain in their position during defensive phases of play and wait for a pass in their direction but the unorthodox Uruguayan is often seen dropping deep to defend. His defensive work goes to a level where he is even seen giving cover to other defensive players who are forward doing the press.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic told L’Equipe in 2013: “Having Cavani makes my game easier. We help each other. If I do not score, he’s scoring.

“This is something we did not have last year. He also does a lot of defensive work and that is good for the team. This is what we needed.

“We’re stronger this year. If we continue using Cavani the right way, it can be good for the team.”

Cavani is a tireless worker- a trait that is reflected often when he loses the ball or does a bad pass. As a manager, you want such players in your team who are willing to do the hard yards to win the ball back. Cavani is exactly that sort of a player.

Tactical flexibility

One aspect that Edinson Cavani brings to the table at Manchester United is some much-needed flexibility. The Red Devils have been overly reliant on their present number 9- Anthony Martial. Although the French forward has performed admirably well with 23 goals in all competitions, the United fan base has been asking for more from the player.

After securing a top 4 finish this season, Manchester United have a very congested calendar. In a span of 18 days between late October and the start of November, Manchester United are set to face the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal, Istanbul Basaksehir, and Everton.

Martial played the bulk of United’s games last season- featuring in 48 of a possible 61 games. With a shortened pre-season and limited time for physical preparation, it becomes important for Ole Gunner Solskjaer to rotate his attacking options to avoid burnout.

Edinson Cavani is a more than worthy player to play back-up to the United number 9. In the Uruguayan,Ole will have a tireless beast at hand who is an assured 20 goal striker. In his own words, Ole once described Cavani as a ‘Viking’ in the press ahead of Manchester United’s Champions League last 16 tie in 2019: ”Cavani is like a Viking, like the ones you see in videos, like a warrior almost!”

There seems absolutely no doubt that he can seamlessly fit in the Manchester United team which prefers to play 4-2-3-1 in most of its games. Cavani with his physical characteristics and work ethic will do justice to the lone striker position but there is more that the man offers.

The past decade has seen Uruguay have two of the best strikers in the world and somehow both Luis Suarez and Cavani have scored 50+ goals with over 100 appearances each. The Athletic Madrid manager was interested in procuring Cavani but when Suarez was made available to him, it was no brainer he was picking the cheaper option who does a similar job to Cavani.

Like Suarez, Cavani has an excellent work engine and an appetite for goals which enables them to operate successfully in a defensive 4-4-2 formation. Cavani’s powers as a second striker is well documented in his time at Napoli and PSG. At Napoli. Cavani enjoyed a successful partnership with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik and the trio were known as “The Three Tenors.” This was largely due to the fluidity in the front line and Cavani’s had a big role to play in it.

Edinson Cavani tends to drift to the right during games and interchange with the right-sided player. This fluidity supports Solskjaer’s model where Mason Greenwood largely plays as an unconventional right-winger who steps in central areas to use his natural goal-scoring instincts.

Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are also bound to benefit by Cavani’s ability to draw defenders towards him as he frees up space for other attacking players to take shots at goal. Rashford’s pace and directness will complement Cavani’s game as well. Meanwhile, Cavani will be licking his hands at the prospect of being at the finish of needle-threading passes from Bruno Fernandes.

Cavani’s presence also gives Ole Gunner Solskjaer the option of a player who can come on from the bench and have an impact on the game. OdionIghalo was largely used in that role last season but Ole didn’t seem very convinced by the Nigerian International’s ability. Cavani is an upgrade on Ighalo and if necessary, can step in for Martial for a few games. He provides fluidity in attack and options for Ole in the style of play and type of formation he wants to play.

Weaknesses

At the age of 33, not many players can claim to be perfect and be the same player they were at the age of 20. Cavani’s case is no different.

With him being in the twilight of his career, it is very natural to lose the pace he was once known for. As a result, Cavani has mostly been used as a substitute this season with Tuchel preferring to play Mauro Icardi.

Cavani’s performances are worsening as he gets older and the age-old cracks of him not finishing the chances, he gets is becoming wider and a more frequent thing. 

Conclusion

Edinson Cavani might not be the same player he used to be but if anybody asked me if he would improve the already decent United squad then surely it is a big yes. Cavani’s speed might be on a decline but his abilities as an industrious forward are still out for everybody to see. Using his intelligence and superior movement, he can still produce the goods at Old Trafford. More importantly-youngsters like Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood will have so much to learn from a man who has scored goals at the highest level.

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