When Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) arrived at Manchester United in the summer of 2010, he was a fairly simple No.9: he sat on the shoulder of the opposition's last defender and ran the channels as he looked to get on the end of through-balls and crosses -- and he was brilliant at it. He's basically still this sort of player, however, he's been showing signs -- especially this season-- that he's evolving as a player. In particular, his willingness to drop deep and link up with the midfield has become a bigger part of his game. In Mexico's 1-2 defeat by Italy at the Conderations Cup, though, he was asked to drop deep like he never has before in a United shirt -- both when his side were in and out of possession.
It was quite clear from the start of the match that Mexico were going to sit back somewhat and then look to hit Italy on the counter. More specifically, in Mexico's 4-2-3-1(-ish) shape, Chicharito (who started off as the No.9) and Giovani dos Santos (who started off as the No.10) stood off the opposition's center-backs while their clear aim was to prevent easy passes into midfield. Italy's regista, though, the legendary Andrea Pirlo, is clever with his movement and he excels at finding pockets of space to receive in when opponents zonally mark him. And for nearly the entirety of first-half, l'architetto (the architect) dictated the match.
Pirlo opened the scoring in the 27th minute when he brilliantly curled in a free-kick for Italy. Mexico equalised rather quickly when dos Santos won a penalty that Chicharito cooly converted for his 33rd goal in 51 international appearances. Immediately after the equaliser, when Mexico were out of possession, the United striker dropped into midfield while dos Santos moved higher up the pitch as the nominal lone striker. Mexico manager José Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre perhaps felt that dos Santos wasn't disciplined enough in his defensive duties in Pirlo's space, so instead, Chicharito was now tasked with the role of reducing the playmaker's influence.
For the final 11 minutes of the first half, Chicharito -- while zonally marking in Pirlo's usual deep-lying space -- seemed to do slightly better than dos Santos in his defensive duties. For most of the second-half, though, Chicharito became a strict Pirlo man-marker as he shadowed him all around the Maracana pitch. For the most part, the Mexican actually did quite well with this disciplined tactical role.
In last summer's Euro 2012, Pirlo pulled the strings for Italy during a successful run to the final. In their six matches, he attempted 81 passes per match. With Chicharito constantly denying him the ball for much of the second-half, that number was reduced to 69 in this match. Daniele Di Rossi, one of Pirlo's midfield partners for Italy, averaged 67 pass attempts at Euro 2012. Against Mexico, he attempted 88 and this increase was largely due to the man-marking attention Pirlo was being given. After Mario Balotelli scored the winner in the 78th minute, dos Santos dropped deep again while Chicharito went back to his typical No.9 role higher up the pitch as Mexico (unsuccessfully) chased another equaliser.
From a Chicharito perspective, his defensive responsibility on Pirlo was probably the most intriguing aspect about the match. However, the deeper than usual positions he took when Mexico were in possession was interesting as well. Rather than constantly playing on the half-turn looking for a ball in behind Italy's defense, the United striker consistently dropped deep looking to receive while the Mexican attacking-midfield trio of dos Santos, Andres Guardado, and Javier Aquino looked to break past him towards goal. In the stretch of the match when Chicharito man-marked Pirlo, he actually nominally had the attacking duties of a No.10 while dos Santos became the nominal No.9. The United striker was tidy enough with his simple distribution and he was also responsible on the ball, however, he failed to provide Mexico a creative outlet. This, along with Mexico's generally poor decision-making when breaking towards goal, is largely the reason why they weren't more effective in attack.
Overall, it's hard to fault Chicharito for his limited influence in attack. Mexico were outplayed by Italy and the United striker wasn't put in positions where his skill-set might have allowed him to help his side more -- this by staying high up the pitch using the threat of his pace on counterattacks while also awaiting service near goal from the more creative dos Santos, Guardado, and Aquino. Chicharito does, though, deserve credit for limiting Pirlo's influence for a portion of the match due to his disciplined tactical role.