Neil Humphreys: Keep Cavani and drop de Gea, United
Super sub's double makes up for goalkeeper's blunders
David de Gea owes Edinson Cavani a festive hamper. Without the striker's last-minute heroics, the goalkeeper would've been left looking like a Christmas turkey.
The thrilling rise of Cavani at Manchester United came after de Gea's worrying fall as the substitute scored twice to steal a 3-2 victory against Southampton last night.
How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be privately welcoming the fickle finger of fate.
|(Jan Bednarek 23, James Ward-Prowse 33)||(Bruno Fernandes 59, Edinson Cavani 74, 90+2)|
Before Cavani's dramatic intervention, the night belonged to a lost goalkeeper.
De Gea's loss of form leaves all concerned parties feeling uncomfortable. No one enjoys the descent of Superman, only the rise.
But the goalkeeper's knee injury allows his manager to make a decision he was perhaps contemplating for a while.
Dean Henderson replaced de Gea at half-time to make his English Premier League debut for United. The 23-year-old Englishman should stay there.
De Gea, 30, was arguably at fault for both of Southampton's goals before Cavani made one and scored the other two.
Another schizophrenic United display was encapsulated between the posts. De Gea may no longer be the goalkeeper he once was, ensuring that he was targeted as a weak spot.
In the first half, the hosts happily conceded possession in anticipation of the occasional set-piece. And then, they unleashed the outstanding James Ward-Prowse. And he went straight for de Gea.
From a corner, the Southampton midfielder whipped a vicious cross towards the near post, knowing that de Gea has a tendency to flap like a flag on a windy day.
Neither man disappointed. De Gea got lost in a crowd. Marcus Rashford simply got lost, drifting away from Jan Bednarek to give the defender a free header in the 23rd minute.
De Gea wasn't directly responsible, but Ralph Hasenhuettl's footballers had clearly been instructed to probe the brittle shotstopper at every opportunity.
When Ward-Prowse stood over a free-kick in the 33rd minute, to the left of the box, de Gea set up a wall too far to his right, practically inviting Ward-Prowse to bend his strike inside the near post.
The Saints wizard duly waved his wand and turned de Gea into a rabbit dazzled in the headlights. The Spaniard's legs turned to jelly and he was left looking like a custard.
He didn't cover the distance across the line quickly enough and - not for the first time this season - made contact with the ball when it had already crossed the line.
That's the tragic inevitability of physical decline. It's barely noticeable until it's unmistakable. De Gea injured himself in the process and perhaps spared further embarrassment.
The goalkeeper's plight was only magnified by an astonishing triple save from his opposite number. Alex McCarthy turned into an impregnable wall to deny Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood's various strikes, rebounds and deflections.
They were the kind of athletic, limb-dangling stops that built de Dea's career.
To compound the goalkeeper's misery, the Red Devils mounted a fine recovery as soon as they swopped custodians - and switched Greenwood for Cavani - at half-time.
Just before the hour, Cavani broke free on the right and curled a lovely cross for Fernandes to drive home.
The pair swopped roles in the 74th minute, when Fernandes' deflected shot ricocheted towards Cavani. The Uruguayan veteran made no mistake.
United, as ever, remain an intriguing work in progress, forever swinging between exasperating and fascinating, often in the same game. Their midfield composition is not yet settled and the forward line rotates from week to week.
But they do have the wily Cavani. The 33-year-old's experience may prove priceless.
In the 92nd minute, he stooped to flick a magnificent header past McCarthy and break Saints' hearts.
Cavani belongs in United's starting line-up for the foreseeable future, just like Henderson.