Striking the right note

Posted by Mark Payne

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say. Whilst there are many who shudder at the sight of Manchester United’s defending, and it can only be described as ugly at the moment, the way they keep digging themselves out of trouble has a perverse kind of beauty to it.

Javier Hernandez goal United v BragaGettyImagesJavier Hernandez heads home for Manchester United to make it 2-1

United’s start against Braga at Old Trafford was nothing short of disastrous. There is nothing they can do about the number of defenders they presently have injured. No doubt the plan is simply to hope they can hang on until the players are fit again.

Bobby Robson had some very simple and common sense philosophies on the subject of managing football teams. One of which was simply “play the players in their best positions”. It is this line of thought that has brought forth United’s new ‘diamond’.

Some might say that this tactical sorcery is another masterstroke from the wizard Sir Alex. There is though, another view. This formation has come about simply because United’s strikers are better players than their wingers and it allows more of them to start.

Without question, Javier Hernandez’s best position is on the pitch and facing the opponents’ goal. As written in this column on Monday, Hernandez needed both minutes on the pitch and confidence. He got both at Old Trafford and his performance was nothing short of world class.

In his first season at Old Trafford, Chicharito wrestled with Berbatov and Rooney for a starting berth and his heroics from the bench earned him favourable comparisons with United great, and substitute par excellence, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The burgeoning partnership between van Persie and Rooney has been much discussed and is beginning to bear fruit too. “We like to play together and work well together,” said RVP after Saturday’s victory over Stoke.

"He's given me a problem,” said the manager after the match. Hernandez’s striking rivals, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, haven’t put a foot wrong but the Mexican has emphatically stated his case.

Despite the temptation to simply field all four of them at Stamford Bridge, Fergie will surely be more prudent. The second half here proved that some width is desirable and the starting XI in London will need to contain at least one winger.

The quiet ascension of Wayne Rooney to occasional captain is not something that many observers expected. In the dark days of 2010, when he was screaming for a new contract and being banished to North American training camps, his days appeared numbered. His contrition since then has been authentic and good-hearted. This encouraging display had much to cheer in it, particularly a willingness to shift out wide after the break without fuss.

Elsewhere, on a night the defence will be keen to forget, Rafael’s bursts forward were a reminder of how much he has developed as a player in the past 24 months. There were some nice touches from a promising, yet overenthusiastic, Buttner too. Alas, Fletcher didn’t impose himself and his comeback still has some way to come it seems.

Nonetheless, with nine points accumulated in the Champions League you have to say the primary mission has been accomplished. The challenge for United now arises domestically, where they face Chelsea twice and Arsenal in their forthcoming fixtures.

Whether he starts or is merely supersub in those fixtures, Javier Hernandez will affect the outcome of those games if he takes the field. The Mexican is back.

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