| 10.7°C Dublin

red ace Cavani’s Roma masterclass shows why United must find way to keep him


Manchester United's Edinson Cavani shoots at goal during Thursday night's game against Roma. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani shoots at goal during Thursday night's game against Roma. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani shoots at goal during Thursday night's game against Roma. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

The numbers alone told a story that Edinson Cavani produced one of the stand-out striker’s performances of the season: he never lost the ball, had an 89pc pass accuracy, scored twice with his seven shots, created two goals and won a penalty.

Here, we analyse the three moments that stood out from a stellar display, and ask how Manchester United can persuade him to stay on next season.

The goal

Cavani’s equaliser against Roma was the perfect striker’s goal. It gets better with every replay, starting from when Manchester United counter-attack.

As the ball leaves Paul Pogba’s boot, Cavani is not facing play. Like an NFL wide receiver, he gets his timing right to turn mid-sprint and receive the pass. It has to be seen again to be believed.

He scores with an economy of touches. One to control the ball, another to find Bruno Fernandes before he continues his run into the penalty area.

As Chris Smalling gets dragged over to the ball, Cavani runs into the space, relying on his team-mate to deliver at the right time for him to stay onside. The third touch sends the ball into the top corner of the net.

The pass

There were two much easier options for Cavani when he picked up the ball near the halfway line in the 86th minute, with United leading 5-2.

Sending Bruno Fernandes down the left flank to run the clock down was the most sensible choice. There was also Pogba offering himself as an easy pass.

Instead, he chose the hardest option – finding Mason Greenwood on the opposite side of the pitch. With the outside of his boot he curled a ball around Roger Ibanez and behind Roma’s defence, allowing Greenwood to race through and score a sixth goal.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

“The pass for Mason’s goal was showing his experience,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The positioning

“He’s more than just a goal poacher,” added Solskjaer. “He’s a good goalscorer but has played for so long that he has calm and composure about him.”

At 34 he is not chasing down every defender but still stays in the game, a point underlined by two significant moments.

Just before half-time, he showed how he uses his experience to be in the right place at the right time. Ibanez tried to play the ball across the backline but Cavani sensed the chance to intercept should the Brazilian’s touch be anything but perfect. He got through on goal and was only denied by Antonio Mirante’s save and Smalling getting back to block the rebound.

Then, in the second half, it was his striker’s instinct that earned the penalty from which Bruno Fernandes made it 4-2.

Seeing Marcus Rashford breaking down the right and knowing Roma’s defence was stretched, Cavani followed that age-old rule that a near-post run invariably yields rewards: his dart to meet Rashford’s pass prompted a foul by Smalling.

What are Man Utd’s chances of keeping him?

Solskjaer is winning the battle to keep Cavani at Manchester United next season, with the veteran striker understood to be leaning towards extending his contract at Old Trafford.

Cavani had been considering an offer to return to South America with Boca Juniors in Argentina on a two-year deal but is now likely to remain in the Premier League for a second year in England, according to sources close to the player.

Solskjaer is due to hold more talks with Cavani next week before a final decision is announced and the United manager hopes his charm offensive will pay off after trying to persuade him to stay over the last few months.

United have been assessing the suitability of strikers in the run-up to the summer transfer window since Cavani’s future had been in doubt.

By staying for 2021-’22, Cavani would ease the pressure on the club to find a new frontline forward. Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland has a release clause active in a year’s time which will reduce his price dramatically.

Cavani’s form, with five goals in as many games, offered renewed hope that he would choose to stay following seven months living in a Covid-secure bubble that has made him long for a return to South America. Winning the Europa League could tip the balance to remaining at United.

Cavani has not been completely alone during his seven months in England. His partner, Jocelyn Burgardt, and daughter, India, have been living in Manchester with him but it has been a testing season of quarantine, training, travel and matches, with little else.

Boca are prepared to give him a two-year deal, where he would be playing in Buenos Aires and just a short trip home across Rio de la Plata to Uruguay. But United hope that he will extend his 14-year stay in Europe for one last shot at the Champions League.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices