Two defeats in a row, but Mexican's spark can arrest the slump
Two successive defeats in the league have derailed a title race that had looked like a formality, injury to Nani has taken out the team's primary source of goals for a month or more while Wayne Rooney's form continues to bamboozle.
England striker Rooney was at the top of his powers just over a year ago, finding the net with regularity and menacing against any opponent. At Anfield on Sunday, however, he showed just how far his stock has fallen with an anonymous shift, and it was substitute Javier Hernandez who salvaged some sort of pride with a late consolation goal.
The little Mexican, a signing that hardly set hearts racing when it was announced prior to last year's World Cup, has proven an unqualified success thus far, and with Nani unavailable, he is one of the few players Sir Alex Ferguson has to hand capable of getting fans out of their seats, and the stats prove why he should now be considered as a regular starter to stop a rot from setting in.
From 20 games, over half of them as a substitute, and just 37 attempts the 22-year-old has netted an impressive 10 goals, including a match-winning brace at Stoke and a late winner at West Brom – strikes that effectively have earned United their top spot.
Rooney, meanwhile, has started 10 more times but has managed to find the net on just seven occasions from nearly double the amount of shots than his 22-year-old team-mate. Admittedly he has made up for his dire scoring form by laying on an impressive 11 goals for his team-mates, making him the joint second best provider in the league, but his overall effectiveness has suffered this season.
Play me, boss! | Hernandez's goals prove why he deserves a starting stint
With Nani out and Antonio Valencia only just on the verge of a tentative first-team return, surely it's time for Ferguson to entrust Javier Hernandez with a starting role, shifting a wayward Rooney outside to accommodate the diminutive forward alongside top scorer Dimitar Berbatov?
|IN NUMBERS | Javier Hernandez
Minutes per goal (League)
Look at his goal at Anfield last week. Late in the game, when many others would have stopped caring, he pulled Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel out of shape before ghosting in to nod home – and he is a fine header of the ball – with ease.
He is, for all intents and purposes, the heir to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's throne as the king of sniffing out opportunities for the Old Trafford outfit. Berbatov's goals have come in phenomenal bursts, while Rooney maintains the ability – as evidenced at Stamford Bridge – to produce something out of nothing but equally, this season at least, nothing out of something.
It is Hernandez who has consistently tormented defences and found the net, finding the target roughly every 88 minutes: a goal a game, essentially. His Premier League minutes-per-goal ratio is the best ever for anyone who has reached double figures in the top-flight since its inception.
Now, with Arsenal on their coat-tails and even Chelsea and Manchester City still in with a shout of catching up, Ferguson should be bold and accommodate his magic Mexican – with his pace, ability to spring the offside trap and quick feet – to fire the goals that can take United towards silverware, beginning with a start against the Gunners on Saturday.
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