Hernandez is out for four weeks and with a busy month coming up his absence could allow one of his rivals to come in and score the goals to keep the pressure on Manchester City
By Joel Lamy at Villa Park
After three disappointing results in the last 10 days, Manchester United responded in the same manner as they did after the derby day defeat, and for which they are renowned around the Premier League – with a 1-0 win.
If the scoreline wasn’t a surprise then the scorer was, with Phil Jones responding to his central midfield role with his first senior goal in all competitions in what was a game of very few chances.
But what will worry Sir Alex Ferguson and all United fans most is the injury to the man who has proved most adept at scoring important goals for the Red Devils. Javier Hernandez was stretchered off early in the match at Villa Park and expected to be out for four weeks after tearing an ankle ligament.
The three points will leave supporters happy, but the injury to Chicharito has left Sir Alex with a serious selection dilemma for the next month. Hernandez has scored six times this season with his goals earning United eight points. In four of those matches he scored United’s only goal and three of those came after the 6-1 defeat to City when a response was needed.
What doesn’t help the situation is that Wayne Rooney has gone nine league games without a goal, after having scored nine goals in his opening five fixtures. Against Villa he found himself covering all areas of the pitch but he only had one scoring opportunity, which is rare for him.
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Now with Hernandez injured, Ferguson needs to try and find a way of bringing the best out of his talismanic striker once again. One option would be to try out the formation he played against Villa by bringing Antonio Valencia into the team and playing a 4-2-3-1 formation with the Ecuadorian lining up alongside Nani and Ashley Young in an attacking midfield role.
That formation could appeal away from home with some tricky fixtures at QPR, Fulham and Newcastle (against the latter two of whom they drew last season) where a counter-attacking front four could be the best strategy available. The crucial Champions League tie in Switzerland this week, when only a draw is needed to qualify for the knockout stage, is another fixture in which two holding midfielders might be the way to go.
But it is unlikely that Sir Alex would want to play this formation at Old Trafford, especially with relegation-threatened Wolves, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers all due to visit before January. And any return to two up front could mean a lifeline for either Danny Welbeck or forgotten man Dimitar Berbatov, who is set to return in the next week.
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Welbeck appears to have a very bright future at Old Trafford, but Berbatov’s is looking far less secure. He has scored just twice in the current campaign – against Aldershot and Benfica – and with so many attacking options at Ferguson’s disposal, this could be his last shot at re-establishing his United career. Should he be afforded the opportunity, now is his chance to score the important goals which Hernandez has shown himself to be capable of.
Another striker who could benefit from Chicharito’s absence is Federico Macheda. Tipped to go on loan once again by his manager after his spell at Sampdoria last season, ‘Kiko’ may now stay and try to work his way into the team, possibly from the substitute’s bench with Michael Owen also out until January.
Sir Alex will be hopeful that whoever gets the nod can find their scoring touch straight away as December could be the month when a five-point gap at the top could be wiped out, with Manchester City having to face Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool alongside trips to West Brom and a Sunderland side under new manager Martin O’Neill.
United have scored 31 goals to City’s 48 and have proved far too reliant on Hernandez to bail them out of trouble. With no break in the fixture list until after the Newcastle match on January 4, now is the time to find out if the Red Devils will sink or swim without the Little Pea to call upon - and whether they will miss their big chance to catch up with their rivals at the top of the league.
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