THE BLOG
13/11/2013 07:44 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Hernandez Struggles to Escape 'Predator' Label

If a straw poll was conducted, it is unlikely that many would champion Manchester United's Javier Hernandez as the most prolific goalscorer in the 2012/13 Premier League season.

Yet the 25-year-old scored every 103 minutes on average - the best ratio in the division. He managed eighteen goals in 36 appearances in all competitions, many of which were from the bench.

It was he who scored twice in a comeback win at Aston Villa in November 2012. It was the Mexican who sealed victory for United in a topsy-turvy seven-goal thriller with Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

And this season, it was he who sealed the pivotal 3-2 victory over Stoke City at Old Trafford after coming on as a substitute, after scoring the winner in the Capital One Cup third-round tie against Liverpool.

Yet 'Chicharito' has largely played second fiddle under Sir Alex Ferguson and Moyes since his stunning debut season in England back in 2010. Last week, he resorted to endorsing a tweet from Real Sociedad striker and compatriot Carlos Vela suggesting he might need to leave the club to enhance his career.

But why is a man who decides so many crucial games so rarely on the team sheet?

There is one obvious answer, coming in the form of two iconic names: Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. The duo have dovetailed superbly this season, netting 17 times between them and assuaging Moyes' difficult start to his reign.

Another explanation is more theoretical: Hernandez is a predator who snaffles and steals goals, whereas his rivals do so much more.

Rooney drops deep and seeks the ball, has autonomy over free-kicks and often assumes the role of playmaker. Van Persie is almost as potent from distance as he is from close range, and is often the first line of defence.

Meanwhile, the perception of Hernandez is that he is simply the master of tap-ins - and when he squanders such opportunities, as he did last Tuesday in the 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad, his contribution must be questioned.

But why does this matter? As Alan Shearer will tell you, strikers are judged on their goals, and when Hernandez starts, he normally scores.

The problem is that the world's most prolific strikers are now defined by so much more.

Luis Suarez scored 30 goals in 44 appearances for Liverpool last season, and already has ten in 12 games this campaign. From slaloming individual efforts to bullet headers from distance - both showcased in the recent 4-1 demolition of West Bromwich Albion at Anfield - Suarez's variety of goals is an inestimable asset.

Meanwhile, his strike partner Daniel Sturridge has shown similar finesse in front of goal since joining from Chelsea in January. Unbelievably, the 24-year-old has 21 goals in 29 games under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

But the contrast between his close-range diving header to rescue a point at Newcastle United, and his sumptuous, audacious chip to cap the win over Albion, shows that he can score grisly and glorious goals, finish moves and start them himself.

It was interesting to see pundits extolling the virtue of Manchester City's Sergio Aguero's all-round performance in last week's 5-2 evisceration of CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. The Argentine's clinical brace was almost a sideshow to his majestic all-round performance, to the extent that strike partner Alvaro Negredo's hat-trick was a secondary talking point.

And whilst Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are streets ahead on statistical charts, they are also YouTube phenomena in a way that Hernandez is not. They swagger and dazzle while Hernandez completes others' work with unostentatious efficiency.

Other predators, although not in Hernandez's league, are struggling. Fulham's Darren Bent was unceremoniously isolated by Paul Lambert, his manager at former club Aston Villa. Yet since his arrival at Craven Cottage - one which Bent believed would rejuvenate his career - he has averaged just 15 touches of the ball per game. What purpose does he serve if he is not scoring?

The Mexican is a far better player than Bent, yet risks being tarred with the same brush: a predator whose game lacks variety. At the same time, clubs on a similar level to Manchester United would kill for his goals-per-game ratio and remarkable reliability.

Given his infectious enthusiasm and ability to decide games, it is sad to see 'The Little Pea' isolated in his pod.