Javier Hernandez: How He Can Regain His Mojo for Manchester United
Manchester United arguably boast the most potent strike force in England this season. Led by two world-class talents in Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, the strike force also includes the silky touch of Danny Welbeck, the lethal finishing of Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez and intelligent creativity of Shinji Kagawa.
The acquisition of RvP in August led to the rumors of Chicharito seeking a transfer elsewhere. Rumors flew of Chicharito's discontent at being behind van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck in the pecking order. In addition, he had not replicated his form from his debut season in a 2011-12 season punctuated by injuries and fatigue.
Sir Alex Ferguson put paid to these rumors by extolling the virtues of each member of his strike force. He has insisted that he sees his strike force as akin to the one in 1999, when United swept all comers on their way to the Treble.
While it seems clear that Chicharito is still a big part of United's future plans, there are aspects of his game he needs to work on to get back to the form he showed in his debut season. Here are a few things he could do to achieve this end.
Learn from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
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Both Solskjaer and Chicharito arrived at Old Trafford as unknowns but announced themselves with high-scoring debut seasons. Both of them subsequently suffered injury problems in their second season, leading to curtailed playing time and a relatively meagre goal haul.
Just as Chicharito has to contend with the arrival of Robin van Persie in a big money move, Solskjaer too found himself fourth in the pecking order of strikers after the arrival of Dwight Yorke.
It was what happened next though, that made Solskjaer a United legend. Instead of sulking and demanding a move, he chose to fight on and scored United's famous winning goal in the Champions League final at the Nou Camp in 1999.
Solskjaer would go on to spend the rest of his playing days at Old Trafford. He ended up making 366 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring an impressive 126 goals in the process.
Chicharito would do well to learn from the trajectory of Solskjaer's career. History shows that Sir Alex will give him a fair chance to prove himself. He will get enough appearances under his belt to make a difference to United's campaign.
However, it is up to Chicharito to learn from the club's previous baby-faced assassin and take advantage of those opportunities. This would have to similar to the way he took advantage of Rooney's form and Berbatov's inability to play well in the big games in his first season. If he does that and follows in the footsteps of Solskjaer, he could very well metamorphose from a cult hero to a legend among the Manchester United fans.
Forget About the Expectations
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One of the things that worked in Chicharito's favor in his debut season was that he was an unknown quantity. No one except the managerial staff actually knew what to expect from Manchester United's first Mexican recruit.
Even his announcement of Chicharito's arrival matched the lack of fanfare around his signing. United fans were still reeling from the brutal loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League when the club officials announced the transfer.
However, Chicharito's 20-goal debut season surpassed all expectations and marked him out as a clinical finisher. He emerged as the fastest among the United strikers and also as the most lethal in front of goal.
Chicharito's performance perpetuated this image so much that supporters now expect him to score a goal within minutes of setting foot on to the field. It seems that the player himself is aware of these raised expectations judging by his (occasionally labored) efforts towards scoring.
It is probably essential to Chicharito's form that he forgets about these expectations and plays the poacher's game that comes so naturally to him. Only with such an unburdened mind free of expectations will Chicharito be able to re-discover the same instinct that served him so well in the debut season.
Beat the Offside Trap
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Situations where he could time his run perfectly to outpace defenders have given way to the frustration of being called offside frequently. Last season, Chicharito was called offside an incredible 40 times in 28 appearances. This number is all the more staggering because it is nearly half of United's total of 86 offsides in the season.
Contrary to opinion in some circles, Chicharito was not born offside. The offsides are a direct consequence of defences now understanding his speed.
When he was a unknown, defenders might have entertained the thought of catching him even if he sprung the offside trap. Now however, defences across Europe have realized catching Chicharito in full flight isn't easy. So, they try to play a high line to catch him offside right at the start of his run.
It is not as if getting caught offside is necessarily a bad thing for strikers who play off the shoulder of the last defender. Goal-scoring machines like Filippo Inzaghi, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even the great Denis Law had their issues with the offside trap. Even last season's top scorer Robin van Persie was flagged offside 45 times last season, but that didn't stop him from scoring 30 league goals.
The trick is for Chicharito to recognize the problem and time his runs better. Once he starts doing that, he will find more space behind the lines, which will hopefully lead to more goals.
Learning these tricks about movement are all part of a young striker's development. At the age of 24, Chicharito is still some way off from being the finished product. However, once he develops his game to tackle the things defenders are throwing at him, he will emerge as a better, more lethal striker.
Stay Up Top and Lead the Line
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We have great options with that [the strike force]. Everyone apart from 'Chicha' can drop in or play up
This quote also reveals that Chicharito is a different specimen of striker from the others United currently have. He is a poacher who likes the ball played in behind the defense. His game is about instinctively finishing off attacks, not making them.
It seems that Sir Alex sees Chicharito as the most advanced striker in whatever formation Manchester United play. Even when he has played with Robin van Persie this season, the Dutch striker has played in the hole behind the Mexican.
The advantage of playing Chicharito in the advanced striker role is that he can use his exceptional movement to drag defenders all over the place. This was especially evident in the game against Southampton, when his introduction changed the complexion of the match.
And that is the point: Chicharito doesn't need to drop into the hole, or try some fancy stuff. Even if his only contribution is goals, he is still worth his weight in gold to Manchester United. Chicharito needs to remember this and concentrate on leading the line and stretching the defence whenever he plays.
Realize That the Grass Is Never Greener on the Other Side
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Ultimately, Chicharito's recent problems are part of the development cycle of any player. The positive through all this is that he has not buckled under pressure. He still gives his all on the pitch and speaks positively about fighting for his position in the team. The question is only whether his effectiveness has slipped a little.
The reality is that Chicharito is at the right club for development. Manchester United have a long and illustrious history of developing class strikers, starting with the generation of the Busby Babes. He has world-class players alongside him to learn from and improve his game as well.
However, all the rumors of transfers could unsettle the most grounded of players in the long run. It is important for Chicharito to remember that moving away from United doesn't mean he would enjoy success elsewhere. In fact, a move might be misconstrued as running away from the competition within the team.
Thankfully, Chicharito seems to understand this. He is aware that world football is more of a squad game now and every player in the squad will get his chance to contribute to the team. So, the best alternative is for everyone to buckle down and be ready to give it their all when they get the opportunity to play.
Chicharito seems to be aware of all this. Just this realization alone means that it is a matter of when rather than if he will regain his goalscoring consistency.