When starting matches with Hernandez, United can fall into the trap of continually looking to get in behind the opposition’s defence, often negating the midfield to hit teams on the break. There is no doubting this is a dangerous weapon but during the first-half against Bolton the ball was rushed forward too quickly, looking for the channels. This meant that United were unable to dominate the midfield with much of the half being played in home territory as Bolton’s midfield kept the ball well.
With Ryan Giggs struggling to get a foothold in the game, a player who is able to hold the ball up was required – something which Hernandez needs to address if he is to become a real top striker. The ability to protect the ball when facing your own goal is high on the list of Berbatov’s attributes and the Bulgarian performed this task with aplomb. This enabled United to impose themselves much more in the second-half, which eventually lead to them breaking down a resilient Wanderers side. Cleary Berbatov’s most vital contribution was his goal, but his general play had a huge impact on the chance coming about.
This now provides Sir Alex Ferguson with the most intriguing of problems in who will partner Wayne Rooney in United’s next encounter away at West Ham in two weeks. Judging by the Hammers’ recent form, Sir Alex may decide to give Berbatov the nod, purely for his ability to alleviate the pressure from the rest of the team, with the option of bringing Hernandez on late. Looking at the match-winning capabilities of the two forwards, this may well prove the ideal tactics for United.
Hernandez has come off the bench to great impact in matches away at Valencia, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool, each time turning the game in United’s favour, whereas Saturday’s match was the first time Berbatov has come off the bench to net a winner, despite his haul of goals. Hernandez has however, justified his selection and run in the side with recent match-winning performances against Marseille and Wigan Athletic. It would be unfortunate for one difficult performance to play against him, but Ferguson will continually look to freshen up his options.
Upton Park is not a happy hunting ground for United, so experience will count for a lot, meaning the Scot will certainly be relishing the impact a revitalised Berbatov could well have. It was certainly the right move against Bolton to introduce him when he did and it may well appear a masterstroke for the remainder of the season. With all his strikers amongst the goals, the focus for United could well shift away from their threadbare defence to more appealing dilemmas.