Last summer, Sir Alex Ferguson made the bold yet assured claim that “Manchester United will see a better [Javier] 'Chicharito' [Hernandez] this season” following the Mexican’s turbulent 2011/12 campaign. In hindsight, the Red Devils manager couldn't have been more right.
Hernandez took centre stage on Saturday, scoring twice and inspiring a third via a deflection off Ron Vlaar to overthrow Aston Villa’s two-goal lead and seal a remarkable 3-2 win at Villa Park in the Barclays Premier League.
That brace took the 24-year-old’s tally for the season to eight while filing another match in United’s already bulging folder marked "Great acts of escapology," prompting Ferguson to guarantee the "Little Pea" a starting place against Norwich this Saturday.
Sir Alex told reporters at Villa Park:
As I have been saying for the last few weeks, he's fresh as he had a good summer break, and it's made a difference. When he came to us two years ago, that's what we're seeing again, and when you score a hat trick, you pick yourself. I think he'll be playing next week.
Having exploded onto the scene during his maiden season in England, scoring 20 goals in 45 appearances and earning a starting place in the 2011 UEFA Champions League defeat to Barcelona, Hernandez endured a difficult second term that was blighted by injury and inconsistency.
With goals drying up, some fans and pundits played Chinese whispers, spreading word of the fabled "second season syndrome" that appeared to have taken hold of United’s new star. In reality, this was a ridiculous notion. Tactical nous and world-class movement simply cannot be "worked out."
For evidence of Chicharito’s immense forward play, watch the ghostly run between full-back and centre-half that provided his first goal against Aston Villa last weekend, or even the penalty-box jig that preempted his winner, running wide before checking right to bamboozle his marker.
In more plausible terms, the second-season problem was exhaustion. The demands of playing for Mexico in consecutive summers—he starred in the 2010 World Cup and at the CONCACAF Gold Cup a year later—had caught up with Chicha and blunted his razor-sharp forward movement.
The answer, as Ferguson quickly alluded to, was rest and resulted in the Red Devils boss blocking his struggling striker from representing his native land at the London 2012 Olympics to focus instead on United’s preseason training camp—a move that has paid dividends this season.
Hernandez has excelled when given the chance, displaying an admirable level of patience that is lacking among other "squad" players in the Premier League as he continues to push teammates Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck for starting places at Old Trafford.
This term, he has bagged five goals with a starting jersey and, perhaps more impressively, netted three more when coming off the bench. On that note, the Mexican has now hit 13 career goals as a Red Devils substitute, earning the moniker of "Super-Sub." The new Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, anyone?
That nickname will be dropped on Saturday, however, when the Mexican lines up from the first minute at Carrow Road. But does this ultimate team player have a scoring aim?
“I never have a target. I never do that," Chicha told ManUtd.com "The only target here is to play a lot of games to help my team.”
With such professionalism and integrity, it is no wonder Hernandez has been such a hit this season.