Javier Hernandez once again came through with a goal in the waning moments of a Manchester United match. This time, it was to lift his club over Newcastle, which saw him continue a pattern of grabbing late winners this season.
In a wild fixture that saw four second-half goals, United prevailed by a 4-3 score line thanks to more heroics from Chicharito, whose goal in the 90th minute allowed the Red Devils to take three points from a contest in which a victory seemed impossible at times.
Hernandez had scored game-winners against Braga, Chelsea and Aston Villa already this campaign, and fans are starting to wonder how he is able to continually come through with incredible goals in crucial moments.
He does not have Didier Drogba’s size and strength, Robin van Persie’s skill or Cristiano Ronaldo’s speed, but he does have the following attributes that allow him to be a constant threat.
Positioning and Movement
Without incredible physical gifts, Hernandez’s true quality comes from his intelligence and guile.
He constantly positions himself along the back line, stretching the defense and walking the tightrope between offside and onside.
In addition, he is an extremely slippery player in the box and it is frustratingly difficult for opposing defenders to keep track of him. He has fantastic chemistry with United’s distributing midfielders and knows exactly when to start his runs.
Quality forwards like Hernandez just need a foot of space. When fatigue sets in late in matches, his superb positioning and brilliant movement ensure that he is able to find the gap he needs to score memorable goals.
While he may not have elite athleticism, Chicharito is not completely devoid of physical ability and he does possess incredible explosiveness.
He will not cause spectators’ jaws to drop in a dead sprint down the touchline, but few players are faster when going from a standstill to a spot a few yards away.
This allows him to close an impressive amount of ground in the few seconds that a ball is traveling toward him in the air, and it is why he is able to get his foot or head on so many passes.
If a defender loses track of him for the split second before service is delivered, he will have no chance at beating Hernandez to the ball. These momentary lapses in concentration happen often when back-line players are tired late in games and few are better at taking advantage of them than Chicharito.
The previous qualities allow Hernandez to be in the right place to score crucial goals, but they do not explain why he is able to finish the chances he gets.
Kobe Bryant has it, Mariano Rivera has it and so does Tom Brady. Certain athletes across all sports have a mental makeup that allows them to be at their best in the most important moments.
Chicharito’s movement and positioning is sharpest in the closing minutes of matches and his burst becomes more impressive as the clock draws nearer to 90 minutes.
Whether he is coming on as a substitute or has been playing since the opening whistle, he is on top of his game when United needs a winner.