Manchester United 2012-13 player review: Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez

Clive Mason

It was another successful season for Chicharito at Old Trafford. His 18 goals in 36 appearances is respectable, but the rate of a goal every 94.8 minutes in the Premier League hints that he could have been much more prolific if he were given more starts.

The Busby Babe continues with the thirteenth installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is striker Javier Hernandez (Chicharito).

*Manchester United 2012-13 season review

I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.

What was expected

Chicharito was a revelation during his first season at United in 2010-11. At the beginning of that campaign, Dimitar Berbatov was bagging goals at an impressive rate and he would finish the season as the Premier League's co-Golden Boot winner. However, for that season's run-in, Chicharito eclipsed him as first-choice and it was the Mexico international that started the UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona. He would finish his debut campaign at United with 20 goals across all competitions.

Last season, though, Danny Welbeck essentially surpassed Chicharito as Wayne Rooney's first-choice partner. It was a somewhat disappointing campaign for the Mexican as both his playing time and goal tally (12 in the 2011-12 season) dwindled.

Ahead of this season, things were looking a bit uncertain for the talented goalscorer. Perhaps in response to Rooney's dip in form as a talisman, United went out and bought the Premier League's best player in Robin van Persie last summer -- a world-class No.9. It appeared that Chicharito would start the season behind RvP, Rooney, and Welbeck in the striker pecking order.

What we got

HERNANDEZ


GS (sub)


G


A


Min/G


SH/g


SOT %


Avg P


Pass %


FT %


KP


TB


DRB


FW


Prem


9 (13)

10

3

94.8

2.0

52.3%

12.2

82.1%

78.0%

0.6

0.0

0.2

0.9

CL


5 (1)

3

0

154.0

2.3

71.4%

16.0

83.3%

N/A

1.0

0.2

0.7

1.3

* GS: games started (substituted appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Min/G = minutes per goal, SH/gm = shot attempts per game, SOT % = shots on target %, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, FT % = final third passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, TB = successful through balls per game, DRB = successful dribbles per game, fouls won per game

It was undoubtedly a successful season for Chicharito and it's unfortunate, because of the tremendous quality and depth United have up front, that he wasn't able to feature more often. His 18 goal return from 36 total appearances across all competitions is very respectable, but it still doesn't do him justice because his actual minutes played were limited due to him being used as a late-match substitute 14 times. The Mexico international's rate of scoring a goal every 94.8 minutes was better than any other Premier League player that scored 10 goals or more.

Sir Alex Ferguson typically deployed two players up front, whether that be in a 4-4-1-1ish shape or in a midfield diamond (4<4>2). Therefore, the likes of van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck, and Shinji Kagawa were still able to get a good chunk of games. Chicharito, though, unlike most of the other players, can only play in one role -- as a true No.9 that plays off the shoulder of the opposition's last defender. For most big matches, that role was often reserved for van Persie while either Rooney, Kagawa, or Welbeck played 'in the hole'. The Dutchman, though, did accommodate Chicharito at times by playing 'in the hole' himself when they were paired together -- it just wasn't Fergie's preferred first-choice pairing up front. This inability to be deployed in multiple roles hindered the amount of playing time the Mexican received.

Chicharito is a player that continues to add variety to his game and this perhaps is most evident by his increasingly varying movement. In his first season at Old Trafford, the striker continually ran the channels while he generally left the wide areas of attack to the wingers and full-backs and the space between the lines to Rooney. In the past two seasons, he's shown a new willingness to drop deep in order to bring others into attack while it's not uncommon to see him drift wide and send in an occasional cross. His link-up play has improved and he can now even receive, turn, and go by a defender. The striker, though, isn't exceptional at any of this (but it is nice to see him improving his all-round skill-set) and his primary contributions happen near goal.

What makes Chicharito such a good player is that he has two world-class abilities: (1) his superb finishing ability near the goal -- whether it's putting away a chance with either boot, his head... or even his face! -- and (2) his movement and ability to create separation from his marker. On the former, he impressively put 52.3% of his league attempts on target. By comparison, that figure was 46.1% for RvP, 40.7% for Rooney, and just 23.1% for Welbeck. On his movement, he's particularly good at anticipating where the service is going to be played into and before he darts into that zone -- often at the near-post from a right-sided cross -- he cleverly likes to make a decoy step left to loosen the defender's grip on him before slipping past to the right so that he can arrive at the ball first.

Chicharito's pace also creates space for others as other sides can be reluctant to play a high line against United when the striker is on the pitch. The result of this is the opposition's shape not being as compact and in turn, this creates more space underneath between the lines for the attacker deployed 'in the hole'. This was key for Rooney thriving in that space during the run-in of the 2010-11 season.

The 25-year-old undoubtedly deserves more starts but he's also a great late-match option when United need to chase a goal. The 'super-sub' label, though, is a bit much because only four of his eighteen goals this season came after he started the game on the bench. When the opposition is sitting deep trying to protect a result late in a match -- specifically, when they're compact and narrow in their shape near the penalty area -- Chicharito's ability to slip his marker in the tightest of spaces and finish the bleakest of chances makes him a valuable asset in these scenarios.

Overall, it was a very good season for the Mexico international as he provided everything that could have been reasonably expected from him. If he were given 45 appearances with most of those being starts, he very well could provide United 30 goals in a season. The club is very fortunate to have such a talented goalscorer and humble, hard-working servant as their third or fourth choice striker.

What's next?

Chicharito is likely to return as the second choice No.9 next season behind RvP while the two can also feature together as a striker partnership with the Dutchman playing 'in the hole' -- if the Mexico international doesn't switch clubs that is. Publicly, he and his agent continually state that the striker is happy at Old Trafford and he's clearly grateful to be plying his trade as the Theatre of Dreams. If he wanted to go, though, in search of more playing time, that would be understandable and I don't think any United supporter would hold that against him. If a Cristiano Ronaldo return were actually to happen, then it's possible that 25-year-old could go to Real Madrid in a player + cash swap. If Rooney departs Old Trafford this summer, Chicharito -- along with Kagawa and Welbeck -- would stand to gain the most (assuming the club didn't bring in a Robert Lewandowski type of replacement). If he stays -- which is likely -- he's a wonderful third or fourth choice option in the striker pecking order while most of us would feel just fine if he had to be temporarily first-choice in the case of a RvP injury.

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