As Manchester City overran his team to score four goals seemingly unopposed, David Moyes seemed to freeze. The solitary substitution of Tom Cleverley for Ashley Young in the 52nd minute was his only response with United already 4-0 down.
Entering the dressing room at half-time, what did he have to lose? Young was impotent, Danny Welbeck had been utterly unthreatening with his energy misplaced and Wayne Rooney looked cast adrift, isolated from his team and marked out of the game by Vincent Kompany.
United needed something going into the second half: a diversionary tactic to help Rooney; a match winner to claw back at the score line; an intimidation factor to afford the team some breathing room, thinking time: some assertiveness.
Instead, having procrastinated over how to proceed, Moyes threw on Cleverley for Young to settle the ship and kill the fixture. United’s three-man midfield suddenly found itself in control of the passing statistics, but not the match.
A penny for the thoughts of Javier Hernandez, who sat on United’s bench unused and overlooked by his new manager. Perhaps he was thinking back to the occasions under Sir Alex Ferguson where he had been thrown into exactly these kinds of situations, with his graft and penalty box awareness trusted to at least force teams to take their eyes off United’s other potentially decisive players. Rooney would likely have been grateful for his presence, hanging off the shoulder of a distracted Kompany.
Like Shinji Kagawa, Hernandez’s absence from the team is thought to be due to the Mexican’s busy summer and a lack of match fitness. Yet against City, with the game already out of United’s hands, Chicharito could have enjoyed the perfect opportunity to run up some invaluable, full-intensity game time as well as offering Moyes the excuse of a show of intent in the face of crushing adversity.
Some may point to the meek midfield compromise brought about by Moyes as a sensible if drab solution to the situation the team found itself, yet bringing on a striker needn’t have been reckless. It could have been courageous rather than foolhardy had Hernandez replaced Young with Welbeck going to the left, or even supplementing Cleverley’s arrival by replacing Welbeck upfront.
Did Moyes not trust United’s proven super sub or does the new manager perhaps not rate the striker’s more instinctive style of play compared to the talented yet wasteful Welbeck? If he has decided against deploying Hernandez at any point this season due to a perception that his game is too limited, then the progress made by the player as an all-around footballer since joining United must have passed the former Everton manager by.
While he may still remain a poacher who can play rather than a footballer who can score, the old caricature of Chicharito being the Mexican Pippo Inzaghi is now obsolete. In fact, Hernandez looks to have plenty of potential to improve further, not just as an all-rounder but as a finisher too.
Yet a lack of a games at United may not be the only factor to hold Hernandez back should he stay at Old Trafford. During his reign at Everton, Moyes turned the Merseyside club into something of a striker’s graveyard. Marcus Bent, James Beattie, James McFadden, Yakubu, Nikica Jelavic and Jermaine Beckford all flattered to deceive or faded after a good first season under the new United manager during his time at Goodison Park. Had Louis Saha not continued his terrible injury record at the club he could have come good, but besides Rooney, Moyes’ most reliable attackers were his midfielders Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini.
It sometimes seemed he preferred graft over craft upfront, even if the style of his Everton teams was often underrated and unfairly dismissed, with hard working forwards pressing and outmuscling rather than sneaking through to grab goals.
Robin van Persie is clearly a different class to the strikers Moyes has worked with previously, and his calibre should well see him continue to thrive for United. However, both Hernandez and Welbeck aren’t worthy of the Dutchman’s level and could be at risk of slipping into being distorted into functional workaholics rather than refined finishers.
What’s best for United and what’s best for the club’s players isn’t usually mutually inclusive and it may be time for Hernandez to say goodbye to Old Trafford unless he can be provided the first team opportunities his talent in front of goal deserves.
His fans will hope Chicarito makes an appearance against Liverpool in the League Cup, especially considering that Brendan Rodgers’ team beat United in their opening clash of the season last month. With Van Persie injured, this could be the Mexican’s chance to stake his claim although Welbeck’s industry may prove to be too attractive to Moyes’ tastes.
Luis Suarez is all set to make the headlines with his return from suspension, but it could be Hernandez who steals a goal and the back pages, if only to place himself firmly in the shop window.