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A Striking Dilemma for Fergie

Sid Saturday, April 16, 2011

Six months ago, I would never have imagined that we’d see Dimitar Berbatov on the bench so often, and struggling to get minutes on the pitch! Berbatov has gone from being our no. 1 striker at the start of the season to our third striker in the matter of months.

But Berba’s relegation to the bench hasn’t been for any silly or controversial reasons, it has been due to the brilliant goal scoring form that both Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez have been in! The duo has formed a formidable partnership, and their partnership has been pretty prolific in terms of goals scored. Though Berbatov might be the top scorer in the league right now, Hernandez though in his first season at the club has shown remarkable precision in front of goal, not only converting most chances that come his way, but also doing that extra bit to get himself in dangerous positions and be a nuisance to the opposition.

To be fair on Berba, he is the leading scorer in the Premier League and has been a revelation this season, covering for the misfiring Rooney at the start of the season to help us through very difficult months in the season. But Berba went through a lean period in February/March that saw Sir Alex give Hernandez a chance and the Mexican hasn’t looked back since, scoring regularly and also becoming a regular menace, too much for most defenders to handle.

Wayne Rooney’s return to form and almost immediate syncing with Chicharito on the pitch has meant Berbatov has had to spend most of his time looking on from the bench. In the last 7 games that the duo have started together, or played on the pitch together has seen them score 14 goals; Hernandez scoring 7 of them. A clear indication of how good the duo has been playing together!

Berba’s start against Fulham did see him score a goal, but incredibly that was his first start for us since the disaster against Liverpool on 6th of March. Ever since the Liverpool game, Berba has an unused substitute in 3 games and come on as a substitute in 3 other games until the match against Fulham. But he was again dropped to the bench for the important tie against Chelsea.

So what is it about Hernandez that makes Sir Alex prefer him over Berbatov? Well I don’t think I can answer that question fully, but from my viewpoint it must be because even when Javier just doesn’t score goals, his pace, movement and brilliant anticipation make him a constant threat for the entire 90 minutes of a game. Playing off the shoulder of the last defender, and also making perfectly timed runs into the box, he’s a nightmare to mark and thus creating space for his teammates too in the process.

There’s only so much a defender can do, so keeping an eye on Hernandez and his runs can be a pain to any defense, this also gives our wingers and midfielders a chance to make late runs into the box with a chance of being unmarked and then leading to further goals.

Berbatov brings something totally different to the table, his skill and technique is among the best in the world, and I doubt there’s anyone who has a better first touch than the Bulgarian. But he also tends to be ineffective in several games too, and though he is someone who can create something from nothing, as some of his dribbling against Fulham showed, but when not in his element he doesn’t really present much of a challenge to defenders to handle.

Basically what I think separates the two is the off the ball movement, while Hernandez keeps people on their toes on and off the ball, Berbatov though brilliant on the ball, can at times go missing when not at his best. Berbatov might have experience on his side, but the form Hernandez is in makes it almost impossible for Sir Alex to drop him to the bench.

I know the argument of them being totally different strikers will come up, but with Rooney thriving playing a deeper role, we need someone right now who can play off the last defender and be a really pain in the ass for defenders even off the ball. That said I don’t think this means that Berba’s future at the club is in doubt, the fact that Berba has scored in 2 of the last 3 premiership games he’s played, two of those he was a sub, shows that he hasn’t lost his goal scoring touch and is ready to fight for his place in the starting XI.

 The fact that we have 3 in form strikers going into the final stretch of the season gives us much more options in attack. If Berba wants to reclaim his place in the starting XI then he must seize the opportunity that today’s FA cup Semi final presents, with Rooney suspended and Hernandez having played 90 minutes against Chelsea in mid-week, he’s almost sure to get a start and if he performs well again, he’ll be giving Sir Alex a huge selection headache, something he might not have faced since he had Cole, Yorke, Solksjaer and Sheringham in the team!


Philip Gatt said...

Very good post about the positive headache that Sir Alex now has.

As much as I admire Berbatov, there's some games where Hernandez fits into the team better, like against Chelsea in midweek.

When Rooney doesn't play, Berbatov could play behind Hernandez to hold the ball up and use his vision to free up Hernandez.

Well done on another good article. COME ON UNITED!!!

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