Wild scenes at St. Mary’s as super-sub Cavani delivers a vintage United comeback.
The Uruguayan, who started in United’s midweek victory over Istanbul Basaksehir, replaced an out-of-sorts Mason Greenwood with his team 2-0 down at half-time. What followed was a perfect demonstration of his purely instinctive finishing.
With all due credit to Southampton, the hosts may well have felt rather fortunate to hold such a lead as they headed down the tunnel after 45 minutes. United had started strongly and could well have taken the lead, had Mason Greenwood done better after rounding Alex McCarthy. There was also a United penalty claim following a challenge on Marcus Rashford, though rival fans will surely be quick to forget that VAR did not decide in United’s favour.
Jan Bednarek’s glancing near-post header, therefore, came right against the run of play. James Ward-Prowse’s expertly taken corner needed the slightest of touches from the Pole, and Saints did well to then capitalise on the shift of momentum. Ward-Prowse was to remain in the spotlight, and soon further staked his claim as the best set-piece taker in the league with a Beckham-esque whipped free-kick. United had a mountain to climb as the whistle brought the first half to a close.
Half time: Southampton 2 – 0 Manchester United
After a first half where chances had gone begging, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once again turned to the plethora of talent that sits on the United bench. While there is worry both for the health of David De Gea after his clatter with the post and the performance of wonderkid Mason Greenwood, the arrival of Dean Henderson and Edinson Cavani only strengthened the resolve of this United team.
First, there was the customary goal for Bruno Fernandes. Strong midfield play saw Cavani break with the ball on the right of the box, and with players rushing forward the substitute picked out Fernandes with a simple cross. A touch to set himself, and a strong finish past McCarthy once again proved that the Portuguese is up there with the very best in Europe.
With the token goal for Fernandes ticked off the list, the stage became Cavani’s to steal. Southampton had scrambled a corner out the box only to find they were soon facing a Fernandes shot, and though it was met with a deflection, Saints had only succeeded in diverting the ball straight into the path of a Cavani diving header. Instinctive, clinical, and a finish that fans would be surprised to see from any other of United’s strikers.
For Cavani however, these finishes are his bread and butter. The quality of El Matador is proven by his goal record, but any sceptics here in England would have been hushed by his second. With the game drawing to a close, Rashford curled in a delightful cross to the bafflingly-unmarked Cavani who once again nodded the ball past McCarthy. Comeback complete.
All the attention tonight will justifiably be on the incredible performance of Cavani, a man who merely 54 days ago was without a club. High wages and a sense of decline may have deterred many suitors over the summer, but United may now feel as though they are once again onto a winner. Another mention must go to Donny Van De Beek, who has played as though a man unleashed since his rise to the starting eleven.
Games like these have solidified Solskjaer’s position for the last two years – and maybe now that his signings are making their mark on the team, its time that we gave him the credit he deserves.
Full time: Southampton 2 – 3 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani