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Manchester United: Edinson Cavani must start against Atalanta

Manchester United will be hoping to get their season back on track when they host Atalanta in the Champions League this evening.

A hugely disappointing 4-2 defeat at the hands of Leicester City last time out means the Red Devils have won just one of their last five outings in all competitions, piling the pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The loss against the Foxes over the weekend was United’s fourth already this season, but the underwhelming performances will be as much of a concern for their under-fire boss.

Apart from the opening-day thrashing of fierce rivals Leeds United, the 20-time English champions have been far from convincing every time they’ve stepped onto the pitch.

Wins over Wolves and Villarreal weren’t a fair reflection of the 90 minutes, while draws against Southampton and Everton could have been much worse.

The problems appear to be mounting week in week out for Solskjaer, while the solutions seem as complicated and distant as ever before, just as an extremely testing set of fixtures approaches.

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It’s unlikely that just changing one aspect of United’s play, starting XI, or approach to proceedings will have a huge effect, their issues are a collection of deep-rooted and fresh problems that may take many months to iron out.

However, one of the fresh problems that has presented itself to Solskjaer this season could easily be resolved, but only if the 48-year-old is brave enough to make an extremely bold decision.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford over the summer 12 years after he departed to fulfill his dream of playing for Real Madrid.

And while his arrival has brought a wealth of experience at the elite level, a born winner and a natural goalscorer back to the red half of Manchester, it also invited a whole host of complications and predicaments into a once harmonious environment.

At 36, Ronaldo is no longer the player he once was. He now relies on a constant stream of quality crosses into the box to cause his devastation, and that ultimately comes at a cost.

The Portugal international is unable to press from the front, largely ineffective on the counter-attack and makes minimal contribution to United’s build-up play, drawbacks that are having disastrous consequences on the team’s overall performances.

After rebuilding the Red Devils as a reactive, safety-first side in his early months in charge, Solskjaer successfully began to redefine their style of play, as he outlined in a press conference back in March.

“We’ve been going with a high press in more or less every game, on the front foot, trying to pin the teams back, especially when they have the ball,” Solskjaer revealed.

“Last year, maybe we relied more on counter-attacks, drop deep, defended really well, hung on. As a coach and manager, that’s the worst feeling ever, when you’re defending in and around your box because any little quality from your opponent and you’ve conceded. We’ve tried to go more positive.”

Should Cavani start over Ronaldo?

Yes, definitely!

Yes, definitely!

No way!

No way!

And pivotal to United’s new approach was £5.4m-rated striker Edinson Cavani. The South American led from the front with his intelligent pressing, incredible work ethic and eye for goal, but the underlying stats indicate Ronaldo’s style contrasts greatly.

As per fbref.com, Cavani made 15.77 pressures per 90 throughout 2020/21, achieved an Expected Assists of 0.17 and Goal Creating Actions of 0.46.

In contrast, Ronaldo has managed tallies of just 4.77, 0.09 and 0.31 per 90 so far this season, respectively, highlighting the vast drop-off in creativity and pressing that Cavani’s absence has resulted in.

While Ronaldo does have a superior Expected Goals total in his favour – 0.66 to Cavani’s 0.55 – the sacrifices his presence in the starting XI results in do not outweigh the extra firepower he brings.

Dropping arguably the greatest goalscorer in the history of football to the bench would be a bold call, to say the least for Solskjaer, but it’s one that could end up saving his job.

And, in other news…Man Utd receive triple selection boost ahead of Atalanta, Ole will be buzzing 

Article title: Manchester United: Edinson Cavani must start against Atalanta

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