Monday 18 December 2017

Little Pea's blossoming brilliance leaves snubbed Berbatov out in cold

Jim White

There is always a polyglot of visitors at Old Trafford on matchday. The streets around the ground ring with unusual dialects, the sing-song from Norway, the busy Chinese of Singapore, the nasal twang of Ancoats.

And last night, in addition to the 5,000 French fans being marshalled by a steward loudly declaiming in Salford French "eecee votres billets silver pat", outside the ground before kick off was a knot of overexcited Mexicans.

Draped in the national flag, announcing their presence in sombreros and ponchos and loud song, they were, they insisted, only there for Chicharito.

After last night's match-winning display, of this we can be certain: they will be back. And next time they'll bring the rest of the family. If not the whole country.

Javier Hernandez, the young Mexican with the sort of nickname -- Little Pea -- that would cause endless tittering confusion in an English playground, has quickly made his mark in Manchester.

On the merchandise stalls dotting the route to the ground, his face now occupies as many T-shirts as the old favourites Cantona, Best and Giggs. Clearly his manager, too, now believes he has arrived.

For the second big game in a week, Alex Ferguson deployed young Hernandez as his spearhead. For the second big game in a week, it was a decision that meant Dimitar Berbatov, the club's leading scorer this season, was marooned on the bench, not trusted to lead the line.

The United manager must have liked what he saw last Saturday, in the FA Cup tie with Arsenal, when Hernandez had formed an instantly effective partnership with Wayne Rooney.

The Mexican had occupied the attentions of the Gunners' back four with his endlessly energetic running, allowing Rooney to drop deep, patrol the spaces in midfield, and deliver his best performance in a red shirt in a long, distressing year.

And so it continued last night. Within five minutes the pair had combined to maximum effect. Ryan Giggs found Rooney, who rampaged into the Marseille area, rolled his assist across the goal line for Hernandez to score, unmarked, ghosting in behind the visitors' defence, a poacher's goal.

His movement for that strike gave indication of his potential to cause mayhem. As Rooney approached, he was level with his marker, the former United man Gabriel Heinze. Then, with a sudden application of pace, he left the Argentinian flat-footed, adrift.

Poor Heinze, he spent much of the first half proving that the United manager was correct in his assessment four seasons ago that he had lost his effectiveness.

He cannot have expected to become so quickly reacquainted with the Old Trafford turf, being constantly sat down by his young opponent, who, while not sharing the gnarled physique of his counterpart last night Andre-Pierre Gignac, certainly lets defenders know he was around. Not that there was much sympathy for Heinze's plight.

Mind, Hernandez's is the kind of movement that can only prove effective if properly noted by team-mates. And last night, Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rooney in particular, were constantly alert to the possibilities of letting him loose.

It dovetailed perfectly into the favoured United system of the rapid breakaway.

Together with Nani, swiftly restored to fitness despite suffering what sounded in his manager's assessment like amputation at Anfield a fortnight ago,Hernandez offered endless threat, endless possibility, scaring Marseille with every incursion.

Just as United seemed to be ceding the initiative, just as fear of a sudden breakaway securing French qualification began to gnaw in the stands, just as the French fans found their voice, Chicharito shelled another.

This time Giggs was the supplier, slipping a pass from the substitute Antonio Valencia into the path of the Mexican, who, standing in the poacher's hole on the penalty spot, slipped the ball past Steve Mandanda. Rarely can a goal have relieved such pressure.

It was as well he found his range. With 10 minutes to go, Marseille put themselves within a breakaway of qualification when Heinze compounded the loathing oozing from the stands by bullying Wes Brown at a corner into conceding an own goal.

The French, unlike Arsenal on Saturday, took the opportunity of overtime to pound at United's fraying confidence, waved on by a wildly semaphoring Didier Deschamps in the technical area.

Irish Independent

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