Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez has found his first-team opportunities severely limited so far this season, falling further down the pecking order as a direct consequence of the arrival of Robin van Persie this summer, but does he even suit the team’s style of play anymore?
The 24-year-old enjoyed a standout debut campaign in the top flight after arriving in England back in 2010-11, quickly carving out a reputation for himself as something of a predatory and clinical finisher in front of goal with the movement off the ball to match. He finished the season with 13 goals in the league and 20 across all competitions and appeared 45 times.
In an injury-hit second season, while he struggled to live up to the high standards which fans had become accustomed to seeing the previous campaign, he still managed to grab 10 goals in 28 league games and feature in 36 games in total, which highlights that he was still highly-regarded by the club’s hierarchy.
However, so far this season, Hernandez has started just three games, against Wigan at home in the league, away to CFR Cluj in the Champions League and at home to Newcastle in the League Cup. It’s becoming increasingly clear that while not seeing his role reduced to the same extent as Dimitar Berbatov did last year, that he’s seeing his route to the starting eleven blocked off by the arrival of Robin van Persie.
The fact that he’s already made five substitute appearances this term just further brings home the point that it appears as if Sir Alex Ferguson sees him as little more than an impact player these days and there’s a worry that the side might have moved on during his frequent spells on the sidelines.
The Dutch striker is clearly number one in the pecking order and will continue to be so as long as he contributes the sheer volume of goals that he has done so far, which is nothing short of miraculous given that he’s at a new club, in unfamiliar surroundings after barely having a pre-season to speak of.
The knock-on effect has seen Wayne Rooney drop back into a deeper, more creative role and he was superb against Newcastle at the weekend, while Shinji Kagawa is also a regular name on the team-sheet after impressing since his bargain buy arrival from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
Against Alan Pardew’s side, Danny Welbeck started ahead of Hernandez as part of a fluid front three and he represents his main competition for a starting spot. While the England international may not offer the same sort of goal threat as his team-mate, his versatility and the ease with which he can perform a number of roles for the side make him a more bankable starter in Ferguson’s eyes, with the diminutive Mexican has always been regarded as somewhat more limited option and entirely dependent on the sort of service he receives. Interestingly, Welbeck has started eight games this season, and looks set for a more important role this term.
The shape of the side has also changed dramatically to the one which Ferguson often utilised two seasons ago. Back then, the Scottish boss was much more likely to operate with a more traditional 4-4-2, but his greatest strength as a manager is that he’s always looked to evolve, adapt and tinker with his style to suit the players that he has at his disposal.
This has become obvious so far this season, with Ferguson keen to try out several different systems in his pursuit of the one which best fits his strike partnership of Rooney and van Persie, ranging from 4-5-1 to 4-3-3, with the latter’s ability to lead the line by himself and still contribute to the overall play of the rest of the side, something which Rooney struggled with last season, proving an attractive proposition when considering the team’s approach not only at home, but in Europe too.
Against CFR Cluj, Hernandez touched the ball just 22 times and got one shot away on target throughout his 83-minute display and there’s a suspicion that his face just doesn’t quite fit these days and even though the club would be reluctant to part ways with a clearly useful striker, who possesses that uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, there may come a time in the not-too-distant future where matters could come to a head over his lack of involvement in the side.
This is of course no slight on the player himself, he’s exceptional at what he does but the team looks like it’s moved on and developed without him and his particular skill set. He’s a fine player but his strengths are no longer the rest of the sides’ and unless they begin to intertwine again in the future, he may see himself struggle to become anything more than fourth-choice at Old Trafford.
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