Edinson Cavani came off the bench at halftime to almost single-handedly claw Manchester United back from a two goal first half deficit and earn a 3-2 win against Southampton in the Premier League. Goals from Jannik Vestergaard and James Ward-Prowse put the hosts in control at the break, but a goal from Bruno Fernandes and a brace from Cavani — including a stoppage time winner — got all three points for United.
United started the match well, moving the ball with purpose and authority. The visitors could have even been ahead after barely 5 minutes, thanks to a giveaway from Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard. Mason Greenwood found himself through on goal unexpectedly, and while the young striker was able to round goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, his shot only found the side netting.
Southampton clearly had a plan to get stuck into United’s players, and their physical approach saw Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek go down under crunching tackles within the first 15 minutes, while Marcus Rashford seemed to be constantly limping after some rough treatment.
Rashford may have still been feeling the effects of one of those challenges when he lost his marker at a Southampton corner in the 25th minute. The home side made their intent for the set piece clear when they crowded around David de Gea, forcing him to stay anchored to his line. Then, as he tends to do, James Ward-Prowse whipped in a dangerous ball from the corner. When Jan Bednarek slipped the attentions of Rashford, there was no other United defender to beat the Saints center back to the ball and he nodded deftly past De Gea from close range.
The goal may have been against the run of play, but for the next five minutes United had to weather a storm of Southampton pressure. Two dangerous corners followed in quick succession, one the result of a shot deflected off the post that could have easily gone in.
United had a chance to equalize from another Southampton mistake at the back, as a poor pass from McCarthy put Greenwood through on goal again. McCarthy atoned for his error this time though — a sharp save stopped Greenwood’s shot, and an even better one denied Bruno’s follow up.
Once again, United would be made to pay for their profligacy. Down the other end Fred could not keep up with the run of Moussa Djenepo and committed a foul just outside of the box. From the resulting set piece, Ward-Prowse curled a stunning free kick just inside of the post to double the Saints’ lead. De Gea managed to get a palm to the ball, but he careened into the upright in his attempt to make the save.
Not only were United now two goals down, but their goalkeeper was now visibly struggling. De Gea wasn’t able to continue, and Dean Henderson came on for his Premier League debut at half-time. Edinson Cavani also replaced Greenwood after the break, as Solskjaer looked to his bench for answers.
Those of us who were hoping that United had learned to be more clinical in the second half were to be quickly disappointed. Van de Beek played Rashford through on goal, with Cavani making a run alongside him. Rashford however failed to square the ball or find the net, hitting his shot into the body of McCarthy. He may have been offside anyway, but it was hardly an encouraging sign.
Just as it was looking destined to be one of those days, United pulled a goal back. Fred held off two challenges in midfield to start a move that saw Cavani wide on the right with time to play a ball in. The substitute found Bruno Fernandes in the center of box in space, and Bruno made no mistake this time, finishing calmly with a low strike past the ‘keeper.
Less than 10 minutes after setting up United’s first goal, Cavani was inches away from equalizing for the Reds. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross found Cavani in the box, but the Uruguayan’s header sailed inches wide of the far post.
Cavani eventually made his presence felt again. In the 75th minute, Bruno Fernandes’ shot from the edge of the area took a deflection that took the sting out of it. With the ball looping at chest height, Cavani was the quickest to respond and connected with a diving header that drew United level. Arguably, United now had the goals that their overall performance deserved.
But United, and Cavani, weren’t done.
The Reds, buoyed by their goals, finished the match firmly in control. In almost the third minute of stoppage time, Marcus Rashford had the ball on the left with time to shape a cross. And who else would be on the end of that cross but the man who had turned the game around? Edinson Cavani timed his angled run and the turn of his head to perfection, guiding the ball into the back of the net to send United fans everywhere into a state of delirium.