When West Ham United signed Javier Hernandez last summer, they would have believed that they were getting the goalscorer they had been missing for a number of years, even though the Mexico international had forged a big majority of his club career out of being a bit of a super sub – especially with Manchester United.
His 5ft 9in frame would have raised some doubts as to whether he would be able to play up top on his own at the London Stadium in Slaven Bilic’s preferred 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 formations, and it proved to be the case in the opening months of the 2017/18 campaign as he struggled to make an impact against opposition centre-backs, or score goals on the regular basis that he might have been expected to.
The 30-year-old has played the lone role previously – especially with his country Mexico – but he never really looked comfortable doing it for the Irons, although in fairness he perhaps they didn’t play the right way or give him the right support to make it work.
Hernandez was often pushed out to play on the left by Slaven Bilic – especially if Andy Carroll was available – as the Croatian struggled to fit him, Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini in the XI at the same time in the early months, and he rarely looked happy about it.
New Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini’s predecessor David Moyes quickly realised that Hernandez wasn’t being effective in the role either on the left or as a centre-forward, and the Scot instead put Arnautovic there with Hernandez often left on the substitutes’ bench.
It was a theme that continued throughout the rest of the campaign, and had Moyes been offered an extension to his contract that expired at the end of the season then Hernandez would almost certainly have been on his way – although he could still leave despite the arrival of Pellegrini.
The appointment of the Chilean may well change his situation for the better, but he will want to be starting for the east London club on a regular basis this term if he is to stay, and it could leave the former Manchester City chief with a big decision to make.
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Pellegrini often preferred a system with two strikers during his spell at the Etihad Stadium, but in his previous spell with Hebei China Fortune he favoured 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 systems respectively.
Whether he will be brave enough to go with two up top with West Ham remains to be seen, but a formation with a lone striker seems more likely.
Arnautovic may well be in pole position to take that role seeing as he was so good there for the east London outfit last season, using his strength, power and finishing ability to score 11 goals and provide a further six assists in 31 Premier League appearances.
However Pellegrini, who has been urged to sign an England World Cup star following his display against Tunisia on Monday, will know that Hernandez needs to be playing if he is to keep hold of him, and ‘Little Pea’ proved in his country’s brilliant 1-0 win over Germany at the weekend that he can play the role effectively at the very highest level.
The 30-year-old ran his socks off and despite only have 28 touches of the ball throughout the 90 minutes, he provided the assist for Hirving Lozano, harried Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng and competed physically with them from an attacking point of view, as well as doing his fair share of defensive work.
If Pellegrini can make sure he produces the same work-rate and makes the same big impact for West Ham this season – whether they are playing Manchester City or Cardiff City – then he should start the campaign as the lone striker with Arnautovic dropping back to a deeper role – which will be especially important given the injury to Manuel Lanzini that is likely to keep him out until 2019.