Edinson Cavani is on the verge of becoming a PSG legend. He has been at the club for 7 seasons with amazing results. However, this season has probably been his worst with Icardi being the starting striker. This does not mean that he did not perform well when he did play. In this tactical analysis, we will examine Cavani’s characteristics which explain his great performances over the years.
Cavani has always been a proliferous striker wherever he has been. This year, he has helped PSG win the Ligue 1 and get to the Champions League quarter-finals. Even though he mostly came on as a substitute, in this scout report we will see his interesting attacking movements and high defensive work rate.
Cavani is not the usual striker that stays between the centre backs and does not move much from his position. With PSG having such a talented attack, they are able to change positions in a fluid manner. One of Cavani’s favourite position changes is going to the right.
Sometimes, he likes switching positions with the right-winger as this causes confusion in the defence as to who they have to mark. This also allows the right-winger to move into the middle to receive the ball between the lines. This is beneficial because both Sarabia and Di Maria are better at combining through the middle than Cavani.
For example, in Figure one we see how Cavani and Sarabia have changed positions. This makes Sarabia, who is better on the ball, nearer to the play. As you can see, Cavani is now on the right side with the left-back not even looking his way. Therefore, he has the chance to surprise by making a run in behind.
Another movement Cavani does when building up is shifting to the right but without switching positions with the right-winger. He does this so that Mbappé can surprise the defence by making a run in behind as he is a lot quicker.
With this movement, PSG take advantage of Mbappé’s speed and increase their attacking options by adding long through balls.
In Figure two, Cavani is on the right side of the pitch and Mbappé has stunned the defence by making a run from the left into the centre.
A further situation occurring when Cavani makes this movement to the right is that the team becomes a 4-2-4. This happens because Mbappé now becomes the second striker and Neymar goes up to become the left-winger.
There is a reason why Cavani goes to the right and not the left. It’s because on the left side there are already Mbappé and Neymar while on the right there is always only one attacking player. This shift to the 4-2-4 happens to the team if they start in both 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.
This is true because, in the 4-3-3, Neymar is initially the left centre midfielder but pushes up to become a left-winger. Then, in the 4-4-2 he is already a left midfielder therefore the transition is not as great.
In Figure three, there is the example of the 4-2-4 formation happening in the build-up.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Cavani has been such a successful striker is his ability to attack crosses. He is very aggressive in his runs and smart in his movements in the box.
In this analysis, we examined that his preferred run into the box is going to the near post. With this, he has a better chance of getting to the ball before the defender. This happens in corners too where he constantly does the same movement.
Apart from better chances of getting to the ball, this allows for teammates to come from behind and score as he is taking the defender’s attention by running to the near post.
As seen in Figure four, he goes to the first post taking a defender with him. With his intelligent timing and movement, he is in front of his defender so if the ball goes to him, he will have more chances of scoring.
However, since he has taken a defender with him, the space left is free to be attacked by teammates as also seen in Figure four. Here, the two other PSG players are running into the box where there will be an open space once Cavani has completed his movement.
Interesting attacking play
An attacking play that is repeated constantly when Cavani is playing is in-swung crosses from the right-wingers. Either Di Maria or Sarabia cut into their left foot and deliver the cross looking for Cavani.
This is done because both right-wingers are great passers who can pick out Cavani and because Cavani is good at attacking these crosses and headers. In the last calendar year, he had an xG of 5.20 after crosses where he scored 4 goals.
These amount of goals after crosses is higher than for the normal striker and there is not such a high difference between his xG and his actual goals, proving his heading ability.
In Figure five there is a clear example. In this play, he actually scores to even out the game. Di Maria cuts in to cross while Cavani is already making the move out of habit. He moves quicker than the defenders and headers the ball alone and scores.
Going into his attacking statistics, there are a few notable ones.
First, he makes 7.25 touches in the penalty area per game which is one of the highest in Ligue 1. This statistic comes from PSG being a dominant team in their league which enables them to make elaborated plays near the opponent’s goals.
Connected to this, he has a 72.73% success rate in passes to the penalty area per game which is also one of the highest stats. Both these numbers prove Cavani is capable of playing well under the pressure of being in such a dangerous and populated zone that is the opponent’s penalty area.
Even though PSG are a dominating team that like to control possession, they also exploit the option of counter-attacks. They take advantage of their quick and talented strikers such as Neymar, Mbappé and Di Maria for example.
Cavani is also included in this as he has a 0.21 xGChain in counterattacks per game. Once more, it is one of the highest numbers in Ligue 1 and shows the attacking value Cavani provides in counter-attacks.
High defensive work rate
One characteristic that differentiates Cavani from many strikers is his willingness to defend excessively for his team. He is one of the strikers with the highest defensive work rates as he is constantly getting out of his advanced position to go back and defend.
In Figure six, we can see how deep into his own field Cavani is defending. While most strikers would stay up and wait for the team to recover the ball, Cavani comes back to help.
His willingness to defend is so high that sometimes he even covers for players in a lower position. In Figure seven, he is actually covering for the left-back who went up to press. This is very rare to see.
Cavani’s high defensive work rate fits into PSG’s tactics because PSG has the highest pressing intensity of Ligue 1. Therefore, PSG have the lowest PPDA which is how many passes an opponent makes before the team is able to disrupt their possession with a defensive action. They have a PPDA of 196.36.
This is mainly due to them being a team that controls possession and position themselves high up the pitch. This means that if the opponent regains the ball, there are big spaces behind the defence to exploit. To avoid this, PSG has to recover the ball quickly, similar to what Barcelona do.
This pressing intensity starts from the top of the team and as we see in Figure eight, Cavani is pressing the goalkeeper to encourage him to kick the ball out for PSG to then recover it.
Cavani this season was mostly a substitute, and this is because his performances are worsening as he gets older and that he is competing against the skilled striker that is Icardi.
This season, Cavani has been worse in front of goal than other seasons. He has an xG per game of 0.83 but a goal per game ratio of 0.54. This is a substantial difference and shows that he is missing good opportunities.
On the other hand, this season Icardi has an xG per game of 0.82 and goals per game of 0.86. Icardi is actually overachieving in terms of goalscoring. Therefore, it is no wonder that Tuchel prefers to play Icardi.
Also, Cavani has lost speed this season and does not look as quick with the ball at his feet. This means that sometimes he fails a dribble due to his lack of agility which then stops the attack.
Overall, Cavani has been such an important player for PSG these years but this season his performances have worsened. Even though he still has a high defensive work rate that is rare to see in a striker, he is missing opportunities or is not being agile enough on the ball. His movements off the ball to help the team are still good but if he wants to remain at a good level at his age of 33, he needs to finish his chances better.