Manchester United went through to the UEFA Champions League quarter finals tonight thanks to a 2-1 aggregate victory over Marseille at Old Trafford. A goal early in the first half and another towards the end of the ninety from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez showed that while he may still be developing as a player, he is looking more like a United striker with every game.
At the beginning of the season, I discussed whether or not Chicharito had what it took to make it at a club like Manchester United, and based not only on his exploits in Europe’s elite competition tonight, but the entire season until this point, the Mexican striker is certainly looking as though he fits the mold of a Manchester United player.
What was witnessed against Marseille wasn’t the performance of a complete player, however it was the performance of a player who is realising his burgeoning potential and a player who has adapted to the system that United play so well. The edges may still be a little rough but Chicharito certainly knows where the goal is and most importantly, he knows how to find it time and time again.
It would be wrong to criticize the young forward’s performance against Marseille, and while he may not be as strong at times with his back towards goal and backing into defenders, and his build up play is not quite in sync with the rest of the team, it is all part of the learning process which will eventuate into Chicharito becoming an integral part of the team. There may have been instances in which he could have launched the ball forward towards Rooney or perhaps held the ball a little longer than he did, however Marseille are physically a very strong team and these skills come with time on the pitch and experience.
While both goals may be seen as simple tap-ins, it’s easy to overlook the way in which Chicharito moved and drifted away from his marker and created the time and space for himself to score two rather comfortable finishes. The first goal in the fifth minute saw Rooney spray an excellent ball out wide left to Giggs who linked up again with Rooney in the box and fire a hard low cross finding Chicharito completely unmarked at the back post for a simple finish. In order to move into this position, Chicharito weaved his run between the near and far post, before ending up stationed perfectly at the far post for the first goal of the night.
The second goal towards the back end of the second half saw a brilliant bit of interplay between Giggs and Valencia, as Valencia played a delicate ball into the path of Giggs, whose low cross from the right was met at the near post by Chicharito to record his second goal on the night. Despite the exquisite link up between Giggs and Valencia, Chicharito showed great movement initially directing his run towards the far post before darting inside and beating his marker to the ball for a simple finish at the near post.
It’s this sort of movement that shows why Chicharito has now recorded 16 goals across all competitions this season, making him United’s second highest scorer this season, 4 goals behind Dimitar Berbatov’s tally of 20. In his first competitive season at the Theatre of Dreams, this is a remarkable return for a player who still oozes potential and will have the Old Trafford faithful relishing the opportunity of seeing him take to the pitch again.
To end on a tangent, it seems as though Wayne Rooney discovered a part of his old self against Marseille. He was the spearhead of United’s early attacking play and looked dangerous and capable of making things happen every time he touched the ball. Could have been a little more selfish at times especially when moving into the penalty area, however he worked hard and put in the sort of performance that will have pleased many United supporters. Let’s hope he can keep it up for the rest of the back end of the season!