Edinson Cavani showed why Manchester United handed the veteran Uruguayan the bumper two-year contract others balked at as he turned defeat into victory at Southampton on Sunday.
The 33-year-old came off the bench with United trailing 2-0 to score twice and set up Bruno Fernandes for the other goal in a thrilling come-from-behind win reminiscent of the club’s glory days under Alex Ferguson.
Cavani’s joy at making his first major contribution for United has been tempered by the prospect of a domestic ban for a misjudged social media post after the game.
He used the Spanish term “negrito” (small black person) in thanking a friend for his congratulations, but despite the affectionate context, Cavani could still fall foul of the Football Association’s minimum three-match ban for offensive comments on social media.
Cavani will though be available for a reunion against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday and could exact revenge for being cast aside by the French champions.
PSG’s all-time record goalscorer was allowed to leave on a free transfer when his contract expired in June and did not even hang around as the Parisians reached the Champions League final for the first time in August.
Instead, Cavani kept himself fit working on a farm in his homeland and indulging his passion for ballet before United came calling in the final days of the transfer window in October with a deal worth a reported £210,000 per week ($271,000).
– Focal point –
After seven months out in the cold, Cavani understandably took time to make his mark in Manchester, but his impact against Southampton showed the different dimension his predatory instincts in the box offer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
“Sometimes, when we’ve scored goals, it had to be the ‘perfect’ goal, walking it in, with an extra pass and great skill,” said Solskjaer.
“Edinson has been around the block and scored so many goals and played football for so long. He’s been between those posts so many times, he’s seen this game before, he’s scored that goal before.
“To have a focal point in the box is important for us, we’ve not really had that since Romelu (Lukaku) left. Anthony (Martial), Marcus (Rashford), Mason (Greenwood), they’re different types of forwards. He gives us a great balance and a mix. We wanted to mix it up and Edinson had a great impact.”
Cavani has made just one start under Solskjaer, in a 4-1 thrashing of Istanbul Basaksehir last week, but may have done enough to move ahead of Martial and Greenwood in the pecking order to start on Wednesday.
Victory over Basaksehir restored United’s grip on Group H after a shock defeat in Istanbul undid some of their good work, having beaten PSG away and RB Leipzig 5-0 in a brilliant start to the section.
PSG sit three points behind Solskjaer’s men and face a humiliating group-stage exit should they lose again to United.
Dispatching Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi, who took his place at the Parc des Princes, from the competition PSG desire most, would be poetic justice for Cavani after the manner of his exit from the club.
Cavani’s parents complained PSG had not shown him the respect he deserved when his playing time under Thomas Tuchel diminished drastically after the signing of Icardi last summer.
Tuchel has held on amid growing discontent over PSG’s performances at home and abroad so far this season.
Dropping out of the Champions League would almost certainly signal the end of Tuchel’s time in Paris. Should Cavani inflict the final blow, it would only rub salt in the wound.