Giggs: Hernandez is a big-game hero like Solskjaer
It is a measure of Javier Hernandez's impact at Manchester United that he is keeping their record signing and the Premier League's top scorer on the bench.
There was much to admire in United's Champions League quarter-final win over Chelsea on Tuesday, the enduring brilliance of Ryan Giggs, the indefatigability of Ji-Sung Park and the continued renaissance of Wayne Rooney after a largely wretched campaign.
But it was Hernandez, a player supposedly bought for the future and used sparingly by Sir Alex Ferguson in his debut season, who illuminated Old Trafford with his 18th goal of a campaign in which he has become indispensable, much to the chagrin of Dimitar Berbatov.
For all his own heroics in setting up all three of United's goals against Chelsea over the two legs, Giggs, 37, reserved special praise for Hernandez, whose strike rate of 15 goals from just 22 shots on target in the Premier League and Champions League this season is nothing short of remarkable.
"It seemed in pre-season that Chico was a born goalscorer, similar to Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] in that he scores important goals and wants to score important goals. He plays on the shoulder and runs in behind.
"It also has a massive effect on the team because Wayne is able to pick up the space behind him. It gives Wayne space to play and produce performances like he did [against Chelsea].
"So Chico is really important not only for his goals but his overall team play as well. He stretches teams and that's great for the lads behind him, because it gives them space to play.
"He's a constant worry because defenders don't want to be running in behind you, it's as simple as that. He is always in the right place at the right time too and that's a great knack, one that Ole had.
"The manager has always bought young players who he tries to develop. Cristiano Ronaldo was the same, as was Wayne. The club signs young players to develop them and it's the same with Chico."
Rio Ferdinand was equally effusive in his praise of Hernandez, who has every chance of reaching the 25-goal pre-season mark predicted for him by United midfielder Paul Scholes before the campaign began.
"Chico always gets across the front post, which surprises a lot of defenders," said Ferdinand after United's Champions League win over Chelsea.
"Everything he does revolves around scoring goals. He's a threat all the time.
"Just look at all the players who are coming in for us. You've got Chico, Antonio Valencia, Ji-Sung Park, Chicharito and Dimitar, the forwards are all inter-changing.
"Giggsy is playing in centre midfield now, Paul Scholes is coming in, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and John O'Shea came in for Rafael against Chelsea.
"It's just a case of never-ending strength in terms of the line-up. Guys come in and just give seven, eight and nine out of 10 performances."
Of those so-called 'fringe' players who have come in for United, Hernandez has made by far the biggest impact.
He has played instead of Berbatov in seven of United's last 10 matches, his goalscoring threat, allied to his pace and movement having marking him out as Rooney's natural strike partner at the expense of Berbatov.
The emergence of Hernandez, who cost just £7million from Meexican side Chivas Guadalajara, has been a bitter pill for £30million Berbatov, with 22 goals this season, to swallow but there can be no doubting United are more formidable with him up front with Rooney.
With Rooney suspended from Saturday's FA Cup semi-final showdown with Manchester City, Hernandez is a certainty to start at Wembley, the manner in which he plays, buzzing with intent, just as important as the goals he plunders.
Former United skipper Gary Neville noted how the 22-year-old chases down opposition goalkeepers and defenders even when he does not have the ball, just as he did against Chelsea. "When you get a player who is willing to work like that," said Neville. "It lifts the whole stadium."
Giggs, going for his 13th Premier League title, fifth FA Cup and third Champions League this season, said United have the momentum at just the right time of the season and, crucially, players coming back from injury to add a freshness to the squad as the big prizes loom into view.
"As a squad we're in good shape now," said Giggs. "With the likes of Valencia, Anderson and Rio coming back, it's 20 or 22 players vying for 11 places, which is what you want with games coming thick and fast.
"The spirit is good and it needs to be. When you need to win things the spirit needs to be good as well as playing well. Collectively as a team we're playing well."
United are bound to miss Rooney on Saturday, given his return to form, but Giggs pointed out few teams could pick the leading scorer in the Premier League as a replacement.
"The top scorer in the Premier League is waiting to come in," said Giggs. "Berba is playing very well. It's not about 11 players at the moment. It's all about the squad."
Five vital Chicharito goals
- Sep 29 2010 Valencia 0 Man U 1 Hernandez had only been on the pitch for eight minutes when he plundered the winner with five minutes to go at the Mestalla Stadium.
- Oct 24 2010 Stoke 1 Man U 2 Chicharito scored a brilliant backward header to open the scoring and the all-important winner with four minutes remaining.
- Jan 1 2011 West Brom 1 Man U 2 Hernandez came to United’s rescue yet again with the winning goal 15 minutes from time after West Brom had earlier missed a penalty.
- Mar 15 2011 Man U 2 Marseille 1 Continuing his heroics, Hernandez scored both of United’s goals to set up a Champions League quarter-final with Chelsea.
Apr 12 2011 Man U 2 Chelsea 1 Scored United’s all-important first goal - his 18th of the season - which set them on their way to victory and a place in the Champions League semis.