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Uruguayan leader How Edinson Cavani sets standards for others to follow at United


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Shout to the top: Edinson Cavani, here celebrating his equaliser against Southampton in November, has proven a big hit – on and off the pitch at Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters

Shout to the top: Edinson Cavani, here celebrating his equaliser against Southampton in November, has proven a big hit – on and off the pitch at Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters

Shout to the top: Edinson Cavani, here celebrating his equaliser against Southampton in November, has proven a big hit – on and off the pitch at Old Trafford. Photo: Reuters

It was not Edinson Cavani's error for Liverpool's second goal on Sunday that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer focused on during his post-match analysis, but the Uruguayan's reaction to it. "He makes a mistake but he was the one who was closest to winning it back inside our own 18-yard box," the Manchester United manager said.

You could certainly imagine Solskjaer sitting down Anthony Martial or Mason Greenwood and telling them to take note of the urgency with which Cavani raced back in a bid to retrieve the ball from James Milner after the Liverpool midfielder had intercepted an intended cross-field pass.

Cavani turns 34 next month and, while he has brought experience and a focal point to United's forward line - an understanding of how and when to attack the six-yard box and a willingness around the penalty area, as evidenced by the way he drew a foul from Fabinho that earned the free-kick from which Bruno Fernandes won the Liverpool game - it is his work ethic that has resonated as much as anything.

"What does he bring? How long have we got?" Solskjaer said ahead of the visit of Sheffield United to Old Trafford tonight.

Tackles

"When a striker of that age runs almost 12 kilometres (in a game) ... he chases down every time the centre-back has got the ball, every time the goalkeeper has the ball, he tackles back on the centre midfielders.

"His work-rate, his habits and his threat in the box - the humility of coming in every single day doing your best - we could go on and on. His experience and attitude has given us a lesson - every single one of us."

They talked in similarly glowing terms at United a few years ago about another veteran striker who arrived as a free agent having just left Paris Saint-Germain and, as was the case with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cavani's impact in less than four months in Manchester has again had fans wishing the club had first signed him a decade earlier.

On and off the field, Ibrahimovic's influence was widely felt. Cavani does not speak English like Ibrahimovic or have his playful wit - they are different players and characters - but he is just as demanding of team-mates and equally meticulous in his approach.

Luke Shaw got a taste of that against Liverpool when the left-back was rebuked for not firing a pass into Cavani's feet after the striker had spun around in anticipation of the ball.

Attention to detail is everything to Cavani. Solskjaer, for example, was struck by Cavani's insistence before a night match against Wolves last month that his pre-match meal was prepared in a specific way.

"He knows what works for him," Solskjaer said. "Those habits I really like."

Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Bruno Fernandes are helping to translate for Cavani but the Uruguayan is picking up enough English to be able to communicate on a basic level.

"He has learnt the most important words," Solskjaer said. "If there is something he wants to get across, he is never shy to relay his message and the players help."

Solskjaer made it clear to Cavani when he arrived on deadline day in October that his influence would not be measured simply in goals and assists but that he was expected to be a "role model" to the younger players. Talking, in 2017, about Ibrahimovic's influence on him, Rashford said: "You will see the benefits in years to come. What I have learnt from him is irreplaceable."

Solskjaer hopes Greenwood, for one, will come to think of Cavani in similar terms.

"We think Mason is going to be very important in the second half of the season but it's not just going to happen by itself because he played a good game and scored (against Liverpool)," the United manager said.

"He scored against West Ham a while back and you expected him to kick on. Mason has taken steps, he's grown, he's more mature and he's been training with Edinson for half a season. He's learning good habits, and whoever doesn't learn good habits from a professional like Edinson, or Bruno, that's a pity."

It has been a difficult second season for Greenwood after his dazzling debut campaign and questions about his application surfaced in the autumn but, if he had any doubts about what was required to stay at the top as a striker, Cavani has been busy providing answers.

"We talk about the second-season syndrome and if you take your eye off the ball for just a slight second, the Premier League is unforgiving," Solskjaer said when pressed on Greenwood.

"I have always said that 99pc effort is 100pc failure. Players who ease off in training every single day a little bit - I'm not saying this is Mason. I am saying it's the case for every single one (to remember).

"I feel now we have maybe overcome those issues because they know my demands on the standards and habits, the physical demands and the running stats. I look at them every game - there is no hiding place and I am not hiding that fact either. I want players who can outrun the opponent and that is a demand."

In that regard, Martial perhaps has more to learn from Cavani than anyone. Pressing and chasing still looks an inconvenience at times for the France striker, who also still has to convince he can routinely sniff out those "ugly" goals Solskjaer craves - as Cavani did when gobbling up a rebound for United's first against Fulham last week.

"Edinson, with his experience, can be really helpful. He is there as a mentor," Solskjaer added.

"Marcus, Dan (James), Anthony or Mason, they have all got to learn things from Edinson and the more humble, and hungry you are to listen, the better you will become. Edinson has been in every single position to score a goal, or to win the ball back, throughout his career and there is so much for them to learn off him."

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