There was a certain air of inevitability about the dual manner in which the two Manchester clubs completed their come-from-behind victories at the weekend.
Both left it late, too late no doubt for those fans of a nervous disposition. Yet, suffice it to say, few were surprised about either result, or, for that matter, the identity of the winning goal scorers.
Both Javier Hernandez and Edin Dzeko started their respective games on the bench. Both took to the pitch under a palpable cloud of unease as the very real prospect of dropped points loomed. Both provided the antidote, Dzeko with a very well taken 85th-minute strike, and Hernandez with a match-winning hat-trick.
The legend of a super-sub would prove a confusing premise for those without the football psyche.
“He scores more goals than the guy who plays from the start despite having less time on the pitch. So why doesn't he start the game?” they would yelp in visible distress at the injustice served against their fellow man.
In reality, it is a fairly compelling argument. Dzeko is Manchester City’s most economical striker this season and Hernandez is, Robin van Persie permitting, also United’s. Yet both enjoy a perma-residency on their respective benches.
This is what makes the super-sub so hard to validate. Looked upon literally, both Hernandez and Dzeko’s form should force their managers hand into deploying them from the start. This will probably not be the case for Hernandez, and it almost certainly won’t for Dzeko.
The idea of a super-sub is to change the direction and point of attack (Super-subs are almost exclusively attacking players), in a game that is getting away from you. In Hernandez and Dzeko the two Manchester clubs each have a player who provides a completely different dynamic to the strikers with which the game was started.
For City, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero are players of a very similar ilk. The Argentine’s both have a high-tempo work-rate, low centre of gravity, great close ball control and exceptional finishing. However, both are relatively small players and are lacking a certain physical presence, a presence that Dzeko, at 6’3in, can provide.
At United, Van Persie and Wayne Rooney are both supremely technically gifted players. Both have superb vision and whilst Rooney’s natural instinct is to drop back into space, Van Persie’s tendency is to maintain the focal point of the attack, where he can exploit his widely lauded finishing prowess.
Hernandez, on the other hand, is as unrefined as any footballer in the top European leagues. His technique is not of the calibre of a Rooney or a Van Persie, but his game is largely built on exceptional movement and a predatory instinct that holds serious correlation to effective former United super-sub, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Quite often, these super-subs are the antithesis of their teams desired style of play, and as such would not be as efficient when started. Yet, in their difference lies their beauteous efficiency.
When they take to the pitch Hernandez and Dzeko alter the focus of their team's attack. Defenders are forced to compensate for an entirely different skill-set, one that in Hernandez’s case I am not sure has even now been completely worked out. During this period of acclimatization, both players are at their most prolific, as this weekend lay testament.
As players Javier Hernandez and Edin Dzeko couldn’t be more different. Dzeko is 6’3" and sturdily built, whilst Hernandez is 5’9 and slight. Hernandez was an unknown who has since become a revelation, Dzeko was an established big-money signing who, before this season began, was viewed as a flop. Dzeko’s game is built on his strength, touch and shot whilst Hernandez’s is resultant of his unbelievable movement and uncanny scoring instinct. We could go on...
Yet in these two players, Manchester has the very abstract definition of the super-sub. There is no defining characteristic, no shared background nor similar footballing journey by which you can label the super-subs. They are uncategorizable, unique and, when leaving the bench in the second half, quite brilliant.
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