Still Game

There was plenty of suspicion surrounding the transfers of Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani in the summer transfer window, with many believing that the ex-PSG men were the wrong side of 30 to thrive in the Premier League. Struan Garvie has a look into both players’ seasons so far and evaluates why both are succeeding more than many expected.

Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani spent many trophy-laden years together at Paris Saint-Germain and are now both succeeding in the Premier League after many thought they would lack the drive and physical capabilities to do so. Photo Credit – Getty Images

Following the expirations of their contracts in the summer, 36-year-old Thiago Silva and 33-year-old Edinson Cavani both departed Paris Saint-Germain and began their new lives in the English Premier League – Silva signed for Chelsea, whilst Cavani joined Manchester United.

Needless to say, there were a few eyebrows raised at these transfers. Yes, Chelsea desperately needed a quality and experienced centre back, while Manchester United urgently needed a consistent and high-profile centre forward but surely there were younger options available to both clubs? 

Coming to the Premier League can be a huge ask for any player, especially those on the “wrong” side of 30 – it is often said that the speed and physicality of the Premier League is greater than any other. Despite these doubts, Silva and Cavani have so far been very important players for their new clubs and have become firm fan favourites in no time.

Let us first look at Thiago Silva’s time at Chelsea… so far. As of January 10th 2021, Silva has made 12 league appearances for Chelsea out of a possible 17, playing a massive part in keeping five clean sheets, while also chipping in with two goals. He has formed a stable partnership with Kurt Zouma, with this particular combination being the most consistent centre back duo in Frank Lampard’s side. Furthermore, with club captain César Azpilicueta playing a more minimal role due to Reece James’ continued emergence, Silva has donned the armband on numerous occasions and has seemingly become one of the first names on the team sheet.

Since the departure of club legend John Terry in 2017, Chelsea have been unable to replace the leadership qualities that he had, while lacking a centre back that could boast any real quality or high-level experience. Granted, the club have made attempts to resolve this, bringing in the likes of Antonio Rudiger from Roma in 2017 and re-signing David Luiz from PSG in 2016. Neither, however, have been able to fill Terry’s boots and as a result, the once impenetrable Chelsea backline has become leaky and lacklustre. The London club do have a very promising young defender in Fikayo Tomori, who was described as the “second-best centre back at the club” by Lampard last season, but the England international has struggled for game time this season and now finds himself fifth in the pecking order.

Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma formed a formidable partnership in Chelsea’s backline last season, but Thiago Silva has replaced the former in this duo, leaving the England international with limited minutes this season.

Compared to Chelsea’s slew of new arrivals, the signing of Silva may not have garnered the same excitement as a Timo Werner or a Kai Havertz, but it could be argued he’s been vastly more successful. Although the Brazilian will realistically spend only one or two years in London, he can still do an excellent job of marshalling the Chelsea backline until a player, such as Tomori, can confidently replace and replicate the quality that Silva brings. It should also be noted that Chelsea have planned for the eventual departure of Silva by signing 21-year-old Malang Sarr in the same window – the Frenchman is currently on loan at Porto, but upon his return in the summer of 2021, Silva will be able to act as an excellent mentor.

Now let us have a look at Edinson Cavani’s time at Manchester United… so far. United did not have the most ‘active’ summer transfer window but they were able to bring in a few important players nonetheless. The biggest name that the club brought in was veteran striker Edinson Cavani. Cavani was a target for United in the previous January transfer window but the club did not want to pay PSG’s asking price and instead opted for Odion Ighalo as a short-term solution. Since taking charge of United, it has been clear that Olé Gunnar Solskjaer has been looking to sign a top class centre forward. Anthony Martial has shown glimpses of his talent but at 25 years old, it is still to be seen if he can perform at the highest level on a consistent basis. Many also believe that the Frenchman is better suited to playing out wide, rather than through the middle. Another option is highly rated 19-year-old Mason Greenwood, who has been tipped to be the club’s future striker for the long term, but for now it is too early to rely on such a young player to fill such an important role. Therefore, the decision was made to bring 33-year-old Cavani to the club.

As of the January 10th 2021, the Uruguayan had only made nine appearances for United in the Premier League but in that time, he has provided three goals and a further two assists. Out of the nine games, Cavani has only started two, as he builds his fitness back up after a long period out. His most notable involvement came as a second half substitute against Southampton, after United found themselves 2-0 down. Cavani inspired the comeback, first by setting up Bruno Fernandes and then scoring two goals himself to give United a 3-2 victory. This was a real standout performance from a man who many did not believe would be able to cut the mustard in the Premier League. Instead, he has so far made it look easy and in many United fans’ eyes, he has climbed the rankings to become the club’s first choice striker ahead of Martial.

In the same way Chelsea have been looking to replace John Terry, United have been in search of replacements for Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. In recent years United have lacked a real top class forward and despite Romelu Lukaku, Radamel Falcao and Zlatan Ibrahimović showing glimpses of potential, none of them were the striker that the club sought after. Cavani obviously brings goals to this United side, but he also brings years of experience and the winning mentality that the club so desperately needs at the moment. Just as Silva will help with Tomori’s development at Chelsea, so too will Cavani help with someone like Greenwood’s at United. 

To many, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani are two players the wrong side of 30 who have moved to England in order to see out their career and pick up a pension. The reality is that both players are just as driven as ever and still have a lot to offer. They are the Premier League’s own Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade, and we are all very excited to see how they get on. Although don’t expect to see them at The Clansman anytime soon due to lockdown restrictions!

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