Football: Match not about Cavani

Injury-hit PSG told to be vigilant as Champs League finalists host star's new side United

Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani after scoring one of his 200 goals for PSG. Tonight he returns to the Parc des Princes for an emotional reunion with his ex-teammates, and will be hoping to open accounts with current team United. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE
Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani after scoring one of his 200 goals for PSG. Tonight he returns to the Parc des Princes for an emotional reunion with his ex-teammates, and will be hoping to open accounts with current team United.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • The Qatari takeover of Paris Saint-Germain had occurred two years earlier, but it was the 2013 capture of Edinson Cavani from Napoli for a then French record €64 million (S$102.3 million) that signalled the team's intention to compete for the Champions League.

The Uruguay striker, in his seven years with PSG, proved to be an unqualified success, winning multiple Ligue 1 titles and domestic cups, and becoming their record goalscorer with 200 strikes in all competitions.

Although Cavani could not help the team lift their maiden Champions League - he was released in June before PSG reached their first final where they fell to Bayern Munich - he remains a revered figure at the Parc des Princes.

Earlier this month, Manchester United took a gamble by landing the 33-year-old free agent on transfer deadline day in the hope that the veteran can have the same galvanising impact as previous experienced signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Larsson and Laurent Blanc.

Cavani was unable to make his debut for the Red Devils in their win over Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday as he was still self-isolating as per British health regulations.

However, he is expected to make his first appearance for United today in what will be an emotional reunion at a club where he enjoyed his greatest success as a player.

There will no fans in the Group H Champions League opener due to the coronavirus pandemic but PSG coach Thomas Tuchel will roll out a warm welcome for "a player who wrote the club's history".

However, at his virtual press conference yesterday, the German insisted the game was not about "Cavani against PSG or PSG against Cavani but a match against Manchester United".

Warning his injury-hit squad to stay focused, Tuchel said: "It will be a bit strange to see him against us. We will have to be vigilant because it is always difficult to defend him and he has the ability to make a difference. He is a player of additional quality in this Manchester team."

On their previous clash - in the last 16 of the 2018-19 campaign - Tuchel claimed it would have no bearing on today's game as both teams had changed quite a bit.

Dismissing claims that United's defence remains vulnerable - they have conceded 12 goals in four Premier League games this season - he said: "They're one of the best teams in Europe in terms of attack and transitions. It's key to stop them before they start their counter-attacks."

TOUGH OPPONENTS

They're one of the best teams in Europe in terms of attack and transitions. It's key to stop them before they start their counter-attacks.

THOMAS TUCHEL, French team PSG's coach, on their task facing Manchester United in the Champions League opener.

Tuchel also said it was "sad" PSG could not come to an agreement with Cavani to extend his contract until the Champions League final in late August, admitting he may have made a difference when they were searching for the equaliser against Bayern, who won 1-0.

Ander Herrera, who will also be enjoying a similar reunion in what will be his first meeting with United since leaving Manchester on a free transfer for PSG last summer.

There will be plenty of smiles and hugs for Cavani from his former teammates but the niceties will end once the game kicks off.

Herrera added: "He is a friend and an exceptional player to whom I wish the best... but not this Tuesday."

The Spain midfielder is expected to feature as Tuchel revealed the French treble winners will be missing Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes through injury.

Striker Mauro Icardi is also out as are defensive duo Thilo Kehrer and Juan Bernat, but the club are crossing their fingers over Marquinhos and Julian Draxler, with both players set for a late fitness test.

While PSG are set to field their preferred star front three of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria, like United, they can also be susceptible at the back.

Given the opposition's injury problems, United forward Marcus Rashford feels there may be no better time for Cavani to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful than getting his account up and running against his former club.

"As a forward line it is something to look forward to," the England international told Sky Sports. "Hopefully, he comes in and scores goals, because he can definitely help us win games and points. He can be a massive player for us this season.

"To win two or three trophies in a season, you need a squad, it's not possible if you don't have people who can score goals one week and the next week."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2020, with the headline 'Match not about Cavani'. Print Edition | Subscribe