Javier Hernandez has a remarkable goal-scoring record over the past several games, but he must accept that he benefits Manchester United most while coming off the bench.
The 24-year-old Mexican has eight goals in his last eight matches, putting his name on the score sheet six times. In the two fixtures in which he failed to hit the back of the net, he was included in the starting 11.
But when he comes on as a substitute, he is unstoppable.
While his goal-scoring streak started with a brace against Braga in which he was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-choice players, the super-sub label started to take form in the Red Devils’ following match.
In a Premier League showdown with Chelsea, United went up 2-0 before the Blues came storming back to tie the match. Hernandez came on with 25 minutes remaining and tapped in the game-winner (albeit under controversial circumstances).
Furious claims from Chelsea about Chicharito being offside did not slow him down, and he went on to start and score in a League Cup fixture against the Blues and another tie with Braga.
But Sir Alex opted to leave him out of the team’s next fixture against Aston Villa, and United found itself two goals down. Hernandez came on at halftime and in a five-minute span, he scored and fired a shot that led to an own goal to pull his team level.
Inevitably, he grabbed the game-winner in the 87th minute.
After this incredible performance, Sir Alex declared him a starter for the next game, and this certainly seemed like the right decision at the time. But he was markedly less dangerous in a starting role against both Norwich City and Galatasaray, and both matches ended in 1-0 defeats.
Ferguson corrected his course of action and kept Hernandez on the bench for today’s match against Queens Park Rangers. United fell behind in the 52nd minute and Hernandez came on seven minutes later.
Within 12 minutes of his introduction to the game, United was up 3-1 and Chicharito had scored his fifth league goal this season. The team went on to win the match by that score line.
While every player wants to be a fixture in his squad’s starting 11, Hernandez must accept that he is just 24 years old and that his time as a first-choice player for United is still down the road. This season, his best role is as a substitute.
Ferguson prefers to start matches with Robin van Persie as his centre-forward, with three attacking midfielders supporting him. When this formation fails, Hernandez is able to come in and give van Persie more freedom to move around the pitch and put pressure on different points of the opposition’s back line.
Hernandez rarely misses when presented with a quality opportunity, and this makes him the ideal player to come in and play on the last defender.
Chicharito is an invaluable weapon when coming off the bench, whereas he is just a quality player as a starter. Going forward, Sir Alex should continue to use him as a super-sub, and for this season, the young striker must embrace this role.