Week 11 of the English Premier League saw some exciting matches and some thrilling comebacks from the league's top clubs. On Saturday, Manchester United came from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2. Not to be outdone, champions Manchester City met Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and came back late from a goal down to snatch a 2-1 victory.
Both games were characterized by how inept both the Manchester sides looked for large portions of their respective matches. However, one common theme central to both their victories was the effect of their super-subs on the matches. For Manchester United, the super-sub was Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). For Manchester City, it was Edin Džeko.
Chicharito: A Worthy Successor to Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer
When Javier Hernandez signed for Manchester United as an unknown, no one expected him to make the sort of impact that would earn him comparisons with club legend Ole Solskjaer.
However, in the two and a bit seasons since then, Chicharito has emerged as one of the most lethal finishers in the Premier League. In 94 appearances for United, Chicharito has scored 40 goals (0.43 goals/game). Thirty-nine of those appearances have been from the bench, and he has scored 13 goals (0.33 goals/game) in those games as a substitute (all statistics via soccerbase.com).
The last month in the Premier League has already seen Chicharito rescue as many as five points for the Red Devils. First came his winner against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. And then came his Man of the Match performance against Aston Villa, when he scored two goals and took the shot that led to United's third, an own goal.
In a season when Manchester United haven't really been at their fluent best, Chicharito's rediscovery of his form comes as a massive boost to the Red Devils. In addition, his presence and sharpness straight off the bench comes as a much-needed option to Sir Alex Ferguson anytime his team looks to chase a game (and that has happened often enough this season!).
Džeko: City's Answer in the Substitute Stakes
If there is a player who can match Chicharito's effect as a substitute, he can be found across the city in the Manchester City side. Since making his debut in 2011, Edin Džeko has scored 31 goals for City in 78 appearances (0.4 goals/game). Thirty-six of those appearances have been from the bench, a spell in which he has scored 13 goals (0.42 goals/game).
Interestingly, Džeko's strike rate as a substitute is marginally better than his strike rate in the starting 11. His repertoire of goals includes massively important strikes such as the equalizer against QPR on the last day of last season, two goals against West Bromwich Albion this season when City were down to 10 men and behind by a goal, the late winner against Fulham and the winner against Tottenham on Sunday.
Džeko's effectiveness as a substitute can be seen from the fact that City have never lost a Premier League match in which he has scored as a substitute (via Opta Sports). With Manchester City having stuttered for a large part of the current season, it gives manager Roberto Mancini an insurance policy to have a proven goalscorer come in off the bench when necessary.
The presence of the likes of Chicharito and Džeko on the respective benches of the Manchester clubs is one of the strongest reasons why these two clubs are everyone's favorites for the Premier League title. Just a look at the bench strength of the three title contenders makes this clear.
For example, against Aston Villa, Manchester United's bench read: Anders Lindegaard, Alex Büttner, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Six of these players are full internationals, while the two strikers have decent goalscoring records. In addition, players like Luis Nani, Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans didn't even make the matchday squad because of various reasons.
Manchester City's bench against Tottenham had a similar look about it. Roberto Mancini had the likes of Maicon, Kolo Toure, Javi Garcia and Edin Džeko on the bench. Further, City's squad also includes other important players such as Samir Nasri, Micah Richards, Mario Balotelli and Joleon Lescott.
By comparison, Chelsea's squad only has three forwards: Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge. For all the brilliance of their starting lineup, the Blues seem susceptible to injury problems and loss of form for one of their key players.
The Manchester clubs, on the other hand, are much better equipped to handle such problems. For instance, Manchester United have spent the whole season so far in a defensive crisis and have still managed to stay top and qualify from their Champions League group. Even City have gotten results in the league without playing the superb football they played for most of last season.
Ultimately, though, at the end of season, we may well be looking back at this season and counting the important goals scored by different clubs' super-subs as pivotal contributions to their title prospects. And right now, the super-sub competition seems to be a direct showdown between Chicharito and Džeko.