Tom Marshall: Five games left for Chicharito to earn his spot with El Tri

Receiving sparse minutes with Manchester United, the striker will need to regain sharpness if he wants to hold off competition from Oribe Peralta.
Six minutes.

Mexico’s most lauded active player Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was given only six minutes of playing time as Manchester United cruised to a 4-2 Champions League victory Tuesday against Bayer Leverkusen.

Add that to the 11 minutes Hernandez got Saturday against Crystal Palace and the 17 minutes he played against Liverpool and the result is a rather disappointing start to the season for the striker.

The debate before the recent Mexico qualifiers against Honduras and the United States was who should start at striker between him and Oribe Peralta. With Hernandez coming into the season with a slight hamstring problem, Peralta seemed to have the edge and got the nod from Jose Manuel de la Torre in the first game. Against the United States, Hernandez returned. While his effort couldn’t be faulted, the sharpness wasn’t there and he wilted badly in the second half.

The fact remains that an in-form Hernandez is a huge asset for El Tri, but there are short-term obstacles to that happening soon. Manchester United has only five games before the next international break, and if the start of the season is anything to go by, new manager David Moyes is gunning for the Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie partnership.

With Rooney scoring three goals in four appearances and Van Persie grabbing four in five, it is difficult to blame Moyes, who is under obvious pressure to start off on the right foot after taking over from the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

Moyes may not yet have the confidence and authority over the senior players to chop and change the team as his predecessor did time and time again, largely to the overall benefit of the club.

Next up for United comes the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City on Sunday. There seems little chance of Hernandez getting more than 15 minutes, and even that perhaps relies on Manchester United being down late in the game.

After that comes Hernandez’s best opportunity for real minutes with a Capital One Cup tie Sept. 25 against Liverpool at Old Trafford, with West Brom to follow and then a tough trip to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk. A match at Sunderland is the former Chivas player’s last game before the Mexico squad is due to meet.

Of course, getting a couple of goals as a starter or a sub will help Hernandez’s cause, and all of this would matter less if Mexico had qualification in the bag like the United States does. But new coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has said he wants players that are in top form when the Panama and Costa Rica games come around next month, noting he won’t be picking players based on any perceived hierarchy within the Mexico squad.

If, as assumed, Hernandez does only play one full 90 minutes over the next five games, that will mean he’ll have only started two games in four months, and Vucetich will have his first really tough decision as Mexico manager on his hands.