MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - When Edinson Cavani joined Manchester United on transfer deadline day in October it was widely described as a "panic signing" with the 33-year-old's arrival viewed as a desperate deal by a club who had failed to get their main targets.
But after his outstanding performance at Southampton on Sunday, coming on at the break to create one goal and score two, including the late winner in a 3-2 comeback, the Uruguayan looks far from the washed-up player some suspected he might be.
His goals were superbly taken, his movement in the box won plaudits from his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and many observers and, even though it had only been 45 minutes, he looked far from a player past his sell-by date.
"For me, he's one of those strikers that can smell the goal, as you saw twice," said United midfielder Bruno Fernandes.
"He smelt the goal, you need to have this feeling to score these two goals. As I said some weeks and some months ago, Edi will help us and he is helping already."
The question marks over Cavani were certainly justified though.
He was available on a free transfer -- and had been throughout the close season -- and many wondered why, if he really was a player United wanted, they had not signed him shortly after he left Paris St Germain.
The suspicion was that after failing to get Norway sriker Erling Haaland in the January window and then ultimately being unable to pull off a deal for his Borussia Dortmund team mate Jadon Sancho, United had, at the final hour, called Cavani's agent just to add a forward of some kind to Solskjaer's squad.
But for a United team that has plenty of attacking options with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood, but no real classic, out-and-out centre forward, Cavani looks much more than a useful option.
"They had Rashford and Greenwood there in the first half," said BBC pundit Alan Shearer. "They may well end up being centre forwards, but that's exactly what they lacked in the first half -- a proper number nine."
Solskjaer, a goal-poacher under Alex Ferguson at United, has worked hard to get his young strikers to make the right runs in the box to find the crucial positions to score but he now has a player who needs no instruction in that art.
“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," said Solskjaer.
"He knows exactly where to move and his best friend in the box is what Sir Alex always used to tell me: 'Your best friend in the box is space', and he gets into that space with perfect timing.”
Cavani, who scored 138 goals in 200 Ligue 1 matches for PSG and has 51 in 118 for Uruguay, has been given time to get up to speed after missing out on pre-season preparations but United skipper Harry Maguire was not surprised by his impact on Sunday.
"I am so pleased for him. He has been without a club for a few months so he is coming in and catching up. He's a great professional, he's great to have around the place, he's great in the dressing room and you saw today what he brings to the club.
"His movement when the ball is wide is to a level that not many strikers can reach. He's always on the move, always getting across people and that’s why he has always scored goals."
Now Cavani must hope an FA investigation into his deleted social media post, which included a word with racial connotations, does not result in the Uruguayan being forced back to the sidelines.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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