Jurgen Klopp’s men may be the reigning Premier League champions but they arrive at Old Trafford for Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash in rotten form
Manchester United’s exciting young attackers have shown plenty of times over the past 12 months just how dangerous they can be.
Using their pace to devastate defenders, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood propelled the resurgent Red Devils to a third-placed finish in last season’s Premier League.
However, for all their blistering breaks and clinical counterattacks, there was one thing missing – those poacher-like goals which can turn teams from title hopefuls into genuine contenders.
The Uruguayan may have been aided by a fumble from Alphonse Areola in United’s 2-1 win at Fulham in midweek but the striker’s predatory instincts were on show as he pounced on the loose ball to level a game that the visitors had started poorly.
“He’s the centre-forward that you want in the box, his movement is incredible and it is for everyone to learn from,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told reporters after the win at Craven Cottage.
“It’s almost like I get frustrated with him when he goes wide to put the crosses in because he’s the one you want in there, so sometimes I have to ask him to do less running!
“His movement is spot on, though, he’s a type of centre-forward we’ve been looking for and he complements Marcus, Mason and Anthony really well.”
What Solskjaer means by “complements” is that Cavani boasts a skill-set that his young team-mates don’t yet possess.
The veteran striker, then, offers the Norwegian the kind of alternative in attack that has been lacking since the departure of Romelu Lukaku.
Rashford, Martial and Greenwood all have formidable assets and incredible potential, of course, but all presently look more comfortable out wide than leading the line.
Rashford struggled to make an impact as the centre-forward against Liverpool last Sunday, managing just one shot in 89 minutes, and Martial has run into similar problems when he’s been deployed up top.
However, both are capable of growing into the role, given they have the perfect tutor in Cavani.
The Uruguayan, despite his lack of English, can teach Solskjaer’s young forwards an awful lot about being a number nine and Rashford, who was a substitute on Wednesday, had a front-row seat for a lesson in energetic, high-pressing, clinical centre-forward play at Craven Cottage.
The England international hopefully paid particular attention to Cavani’s movement in the box and also the timing of his runs.
Rashford, remember, was caught offside five times in United’s goalless draw at Anfield and, as Solskjaer prepares to face the same opponents this weekend in the FA Cup, he will be hoping for better timing and more precision from his attackers.
“They’re eager, of course, but it’s also about the way we want to attack. It’s not that you have to attack quickly every time, it’s a decision you’ve got to make there and then,” Solskjaer said of United’s eight offsides against Liverpool.
“Of course, it’s in our DNA that if you see a pass, you do it. But you have to do it well. I didn’t think we executed the passes well enough against Liverpool.
“Some of the runs were maybe too eager, though, especially at Anfield. I felt one or two times there we could’ve been one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
“For us, it’s about fine-tuning, getting better, getting used to each other. Edinson is new, Bruno [Fernandes] has not been here a year yet. We’ll get there.”
What Solskjaer and United need is for the forwards to click on Sunday, against a Liverpool side who are licking their wounds after falling further into crisis following Thursday night’s shock loss at home to Burnley. A Liverpool side that will arrive at Old Trafford without their first-choice centre-back pairing.
United’s performance at Anfield will give them hope of reaching the FA Cup fifth round. They had the best chances at Anfield and even if Solskjaer does rotate his squad, the game presents United with a rare opportunity to kick their great rivals while they are down.
Solskjaer’s forwards certainly won’t lack motivation. They have a point to prove. After all, United have failed to score from open play against the teams in the ‘Big Six’ this season. That rotten record needs to come to an end on Sunday, and Solskjaer thinks they can do it so long as they remain patient and avoid rushing things.
“You can do loads of work in training, and we do loads of work, but it’s about taking a moment in the game and I feel we’re getting there,” Solskjaer argued.
“When you get up the pitch, sometimes the right decision might be to slow it down and play in their half, rather than always going for the killer pass. They’re the little things we’re working on.”
And United remain a work in progress. This is undoubtedly a long-term project. However, the short-term goal is to prove they can beat the big boys this season by knocking Liverpool out of the cup.
Whether or not Cavani is given back-to-back starts remains to be seen.
However, if Rashford was watching closely enough at Craven Cottage, then it’s possible that the former PSG striker’s impact will be felt at Old Trafford on Sunday, without him even having to set foot on the pitch
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