Every top football side needs a proper number 9 or a center forward who can hold the ball, link up the play, attract defenders so that other attackers can run through space, and most importantly win the long aerial balls. This is how a number 9 should play. Since the departure of Robin Van Persie, Manchester United was in search of a player for the number 9 position but couldn’t find their desired target man. Can Edinson Cavani as a number 9 be the difference-maker in the United attack? They did have players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku where the former played just one full season and scored 27 goals but couldn’t play much of his second season at the club due to injury and his increasing age and ultimately had to move to Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy.
Romelu Lukaku was thought to be the perfect replacement for the iconic Swedish when he started the 2017-18 season, his first with the Red Devils, with a bang by scoring 4 goals in the first 4 league games. But as the season progressed, the weaknesses with his touch and failing to turn up in big games, especially against top 6 sides in the league proved to be vital for the Reds, as they fell short of the pace with their cross-city rivals Manchester City in the title challenge. Lukaku did have 27 goals for the club in that season, but he scored only 16 times in the Premier League, a tally that couldn’t match the expectations from an 80-million striker.
The following season saw a managerial change at the club in the middle of the season as Jose Mourinho was replaced by club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ole’s tactics and playing style proved too fast for the number 9 and as a result, he fell down at the pecking order in the striker position. He left the Manchester club for the Italian club Inter Milan in summer 2019 and the Reds started having serious problems in that position as the 2019-20 season progressed. Manchester United had the forward trio of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and 17-year-old youngster Mason Greenwood and none of them is a natural number 9 as each of them tend to play in a wider role. However, goals were coming from all of the front three as the trio scored a combined 63 goals for the Reds in all competitions with both Martial and Rashford surpassing the 20-goal mark. But still, a top football team needs a center-forward who will make runs behind the opponent’s defense line to create chances and try to break the low block.
The arrival of Cavani
After the Covid-19 pandemic, each and every club suffered a huge financial loss for closed-door games and many other reasons, and United wasn’t any exception. As a result, they couldn’t spend big in the summer transfer window and were able to make only three first-team signings with two of them coming on the deadline day.
The former Paris Saint Germain attacker was one of United’s deadline day signings along with Brazilian left-back Alex Telles. Cavani was a free agent at that time and United roped in Edinson Cavani as a number 9.
Edinson Cavani as a number 9:Impact On United’s Game
The number 7 shirt of United was presented to Edinson Cavani as he made his Premier League debut against Chelsea in a goalless draw and the Champions League debut against RB Leipzig in a 5-0 United win at Old Trafford. The striker opened his account for the Reds against Everton after tapping in a Bruno Fernandes pass into the net past Pickford to put the game to bed in injury time when United was leading by 2 goals to 1. That goal and the run proved Cavani’s worth as a center forward for being in the right position at the right time.
The best game of Edinson Cavani as a number 9 in a United shirt so far, however, came against Southampton on 29th of November 2020. The Red Devils were behind at the break by 2-0 and on the verge of losing their first away game after winning 7 consecutive games on the road. Cavani was substituted at halftime for Mason Greenwood and He completely changed the complexion of the game by scoring 2 goals including the injury-time winner and assisting United’s opener scored by Bruno Fernandes. But this is not only about numbers, but it’s also about Cavani’s movement on the ball and instinct that caused problems in the Saints’ defense.
For example, the winning goal came at the 92nd minute and it was because of Cavani’s presence at the right place at the right time, that the Marcus Rashford cross looked pinpoint and he didn’t make any mistake to head it into the net. This box presence, as well as poacher instinct, was sometimes missing from United’s gameplay in recent years. United fans will hope, with the arrival of the big Uruguayan, this problem will be solved for their team and he’ll come big in clutch games where they have to dig deep and grind out results. Despite being in his thirties, Edinson Cavani as a number 9 might not be the long-term solution for the Reds, but the presence of the big man and one of the most successful strikers of this decade in the United dressing room will help the young strikers like Mason Greenwood to learn things about how to become successful in the all-important number 9 position at the heart of United attack.
The above images show Cavani’s positional sense during both of his goals against Southampton. During the equalizer, he was quick to reach the accurate position to head Bruno Fernandes‘s deflected shot into the net. Similarly, in the 93rd minute, he moved into space between two Southampton defenders and calmly headed Rashford’s low cross into the net and scored United’s winner. If the Uruguayan continues this run of form, then surely Manchester United fans won’t have to worry about their center forward position, at least for two more seasons to come.
Can Edinson Cavani as a number 9 be the difference-maker in the Manchester United attack? Let us know in the comment section below.