Wednesday 17 January 2018

'Little pea' lays early roots with Reds fans

Manchester Utd 3
Chelsea 1

Sam Wallace at Wembley

Javier Hernandez was at pains to point out to his team-mates yesterday that the goal he had scored had gone in via a deflection off his mouth.

He is too young to know that when it comes to making your name at Manchester United, a generous helping of luck can be a career-saver in the event of a momentary lack of composure in front of goal.

The second United goal for the 22-year-old Mexican striker, signed last season, was the stand-out moment of a game even though his side's third goal, from Dimitar Berbatov, was much more elegant in its execution.

Hernandez, aka 'Chicharito', aka 'the little pea' -- surely the first player in the English top flight to glory in a pulse crop-based nickname -- demonstrated he has the potential to be an Old Trafford favourite.

The Community Shield has historically been the stage for the most successful clubs in English football to parade their new players and, without the famous new faces, the afternoon can feel a little pointless.

In the absence of any such player, yesterday belonged to Hernandez, a smiling, well-disposed looking individual for whom, by virtue of the club he has signed for, there are the usual high expectations.

Plenty of good players have fallen short of the mark at United, including Diego Forlan, the best player at this summer's World Cup finals, as well as Michael Owen, who started the game yesterday, and Berbatov himself.

Presented with a perfect cross from Antonio Valencia in the 76th minute, it seemed as if Hernandez might have blown his chance, slipping as he hit the ball which struck him in the face and was redirected into the goal.


You need a slice of good fortune and Hernandez certainly had that. He invited all his team-mates to check out the post-match replays of his goal on the big screen to see just how lucky he had been. But he showed enough in other areas of his second-half performance to suggest that if he continues to get the breaks, he has the potential to be a significant United player.

Replacements for Wayne Rooney and Owen at half-time, the Hernandez and Berbatov axis worked well for United.

Berbatov will like Hernandez because the Mexican does all the running expected of him and most of that expected of Berbatov as well, leaving the latter to swan around in the centre to take the kind of chance that presented itself for the third goal.

As a guide to the season ahead, the Community Shield is scarcely more instructive than a brief glimpse through an open door especially when, as was the case yesterday, the two managers made 11 substitutions between them. Nevertheless, Carlo Ancelotti looked as anxious as ever and his team roused themselves in the last 10 minutes, especially after Salomon Kalou had scored to make it 2-1.

The two big powers of English football look as robust as ever, although not radically different to last season. They have the two strongest squads in the Premier League.

Both sets of players have great experience. And both will need to replace key players at some point in the future, but you get the sense that the famous names that have sustained both clubs' success for so long are good for at least another season.

For United, it looks as if Alex Ferguson will, in a large part, have to rely yet again on the golden oldies like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, the latter of whom was outstanding for 80 minutes yesterday.

Installed as captain for the afternoon, and with a new contract, Nemanja Vidic was excellent alongside first Jonny Evans and later Chris Smalling.

The same patterns are there for Chelsea, too. A midfield built around Frank Lampard and the returning Michael Essien as well as Ramires, the Brazilian coming from Benfica. Didier Drogba, a second-half substitute, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka will be crucial.

As in last season, you can assume that the title race will be a case of which of these two sides holds it together longest. Ferguson said after the game that he did not feel the outside world quite understood "how much faith" he and his staff had in the young generation of players at United.

It would be hard for Ancelotti to make the same case at Chelsea. Daniel Sturridge was very lively for the 30 minutes he played, although in a one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar he did miss the kind of chance that would have put his name up in lights.

Having failed to make barely any impression in his first season at Chelsea, it was Sturridge's shot on 83 minutes -- after a fellow youngster, Jeffrey Bruma, had won the ball from Luis Nani -- that led to Kalou scoring from the rebound. Chelsea need one of these young players to break through and with Drogba's susceptibility to injury there will surely be chances for Sturridge this season.

And what of the one man upon whom the hopes and dreams of English football rested scarcely two months ago?

Rooney only played the first half but in the moment that he ran onto Scholes' pass and drove the ball back across the face of goal on 41 minutes for Valencia to score United's first, Rooney probably did more than he managed in all four of those dismal World Cup games.

The booing for Rooney from the Chelsea fans had an added intensity to it -- blame the World Cup for that -- and United's fans responded by giving Terry the same treatment. They might as well get used to it. There will be lots more of that this season.

After Hernandez's goal with 14 minutes left, Chelsea threw themselves into the game and, having scored through Kalou, might even have had an equaliser, especially on 86 minutes when Drogba missed the target at the back post.

Then, four minutes into injury-time, Berbatov lobbed Henrique Hilario to decide the game. It was a beautifully taken goal and prompted Ferguson to eulogise the extent of Berbatov's talent.

No one would dispute that Berbatov has talent, but it takes more than that to make a name for yourself at United. Hernandez has proved that he is fortunate enough to be lucky as well as talented, which is a good start but, as with the season that stretches out ahead of both these teams, there is a long way to go. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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