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Edinson Cavani

Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester United, free

In swapping Paris for Manchester, Edinson Cavani has also gone from competing for selection with Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Mauro Icardi, to challenging Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford. Among the world’s most prolific and consistent goalscorers of the past decade, he also swapped Ligue 1 for the Premier League.

If, at the point of his arrival at Manchester United at the age of 33 he is past his peak, he also represents the nature of attacker they have lacked since Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to Inter Milan. Potent and fluid though Greenwood, Martial and Rashford may consistently be, there have been occasions when United would have benefitted from a physically stronger striker capable of retaining the ball in the final third. “He’ll bring energy, power, leadership and a great mentality to the squad but, most importantly, he’ll bring goals,” said United’s manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, also once a fine goalscorer, of the Uruguayan. “The opportunity for our young players to learn from one of Europe’s top goalscorers is fantastic and it will really benefit them going forward.”

Tactical analysis
Cavani operates similarly to a traditional number nine, one who occupies the spaces between and around opposing central defenders, and relishes an advanced central position. During his time with PSG, 93 per cent of his league goals were scored from inside the width of the six-yard box – the positions he adopts to attack balls in this area represents one of his major strengths.

Though he moves with intelligence, it is his ability to understand and adapt to his surroundings, and therefore to instinctively detect the best positions to move to, that is particularly influential. When possession is being built either in a wider area or more centrally – and complemented by penetrations from a third man – Cavani will start in an offside position to gain an advantage over his likely markers and resists contributing until the attempted attack requires someone to provide the finishing touch. If it is for that reason that he averaged only one assist every eight games with PSG, it is also why he is so well placed to reach the ball ahead of his marker once the relevant teammate has provided a penetrative movement, and to score. Luis Suárez, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero are capable of performing similarly.

His relative versatility and the advanced positions he most consistently maintains means there are also occasions – typically a less complex attack that prioritises directly penetrating – when he seeks to stretch defences and move behind them. While powerfully moving, the then-single-minded Cavani then limits the curve of his run to make possible an increased variety of finish (below), instead of limiting his shooting angle. He is a consistently superb finisher, who also uses his six-foot frame to impose himself against physical defenders and provide an aerial threat, and who is also proven at using his body to help secure possession against an opponent before turning him, rolling him, and shooting at goal.

Those shots are most commonly powerful, and often despite minimal back lift, and he retains that power when running on to balls and transferring the momentum of his run to his strike. He, regardless, is also aware of when a more delicate and accurate finish is preferable – perhaps from a reduced angle – and favours attempting them with his right foot and when running in behind. If he is met by an onrushing goalkeeper, he will similarly adjust by instead attempting to finish over him. Statistics from his time in Paris ultimately show that 65 per cent of his league goals were scored with his right foot, 18 per cent with his left, and 17 per cent with his head.

Role at Paris Saint-Germain
As has largely been consistent in his career, the majority of Cavani’s goals for PSG were scored inside the penalty area. Of the 200 he recorded during his time there, only 12 came from outside of it. Thomas Tuchel’s arrival in the French capital, and the extent to which they played with wing-backs thereafter, encouraged their most creative players to drift infield and to attack via the three central lanes, encouraging Cavani to remain as advanced as possible and to prioritise his positioning both as their focal point and during the final phase of their attacks. Neymar’s abilities, and Mbappé’s penetrative threat, regularly took opponents out of the game, creating spaces for Cavani and for the Brazilian to create for him.

Cavani remained similarly advanced if they were instead organised to play with a more traditional back four. When that meant his creative teammates playing with increased width and then cutting infield on to their stronger foot, he adapted by taking different positions.

It was when he played alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, under Laurent Blanc, in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, that he was instead instructed to operate more from wider areas and in the inside channels. With Ibrahimovic playing as their number nine, Cavani offered secondary runs between the relevant full-back and central defender and, because of the extent to which they dominated possession against most opponents, moved early, and often in front of the withdrawing Ibrahimovic who sought chances to shoot from range.

Under the management of Blanc’s successor Unai Emery, and following Ibrahimovic’s departure, PSG used a back four and full-backs who performed perhaps similarly to those at United. They advanced to provide overlaps while covered by those in central midfield – offering fewer teammates in central areas to draw attention from Cavani – and the striker continued to intelligently find spaces (above), and to reach their outswinging crosses.

Edinson Cavani

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