Chicharito an ideal fit for Ancelotti's Real Madrid
The "Little Pea" may not be "The Tiger" and may not provide the answers to the problems highlighted in Real Madrid's unexpected 4-2 defeat at Real Sociedad on Sunday night. But Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez may well be a shrewd addition to Carlo Ancelotti's much-changed squad for the coming season.
The European champions' decision to sign Hernandez on a season-long loan and not Colombian star Falcao -- who had been touted for a move to the Santiago Bernabeu all summer -- left many Madrid fans disillusioned. The news came just a day after they saw their side put to the sword in somewhat embarrassing fashion in San Sebastian.
The Mexican international may not fit into the "Galactico" bracket and may not bring with him any of the hype that surrounded the signing of Gareth Bale 12 months ago, but what he does bring with him are guaranteed goals and a viable alternative to Karim Benzema in attack following the summer departure of Alvaro Morata to Juventus.
Madrid needed another option at No. 9 to thwart a reliance on Benzema or the so-far unsuccessful use of Isco or James Rodriguez in a "false 9" role. The Frenchman ultimately enjoyed a successful season last term, but Madrid were fortunate that for the most part he was injury-free and for much of the season they managed to unearth a young talent in Jese Rodriguez. They also had Morata, however frustrating his campaign may have been.
This season, before the arrival of Chicharito, they did not have those options. Morata has left and Jese is still recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury. The hope is that the Las Palmas-born talent will hit the ground running on his return, but nothing is guaranteed, not after such a bad injury at such a young age. Nor is the form of Benzema guaranteed. The former Lyon man excelled last season but he had a World Cup at the end of it and he also had a new contract to work for, one that he's since been offered and accepted.
The Mexican international not only offers competition for places and ensures Benzema stays on top of his game, he also provides a scintillating burst of energy from the substitutes' bench and provides the addition to the team, and not as an individual, that Ancelotti had been looking for.
It should also be worth noting that, just like James, the striker will sell shirts. Chicharito is huge in his home country and Madrid will benefit commercially. That's not to take anything away from his on-the-pitch talents though.
From the minute the whistle blew on Madrid's Champions League glory in Lisbon and the Italian had sat down with president Florentino Perez to discuss his squad for the new season, the idea had always been to bring in a squad player in a similar mould to Morata. Someone who will not be a "Galactico" and will not take the limelight away from Cristiano Ronaldo or Bale, but someone who will complement them.
During the preseason tour of the United States Ancelotti made mention of the need for his No. 9 to make goals for Ronaldo and Bale, and not be a 50-goal-a-season man. A ploy to lift a weight off Benzema's shoulders, perhaps, but with statistics such as those held by Madrid's lethal twosome, his comments also rang true.
The Portuguese scored 54 goals in a Madrid shirt last season while Bale, in his first season in the Spanish capital, chipped in with another 22. For the record, Benzema added 26 in all competitions.
What Hernandez will do is help Madrid perform as a team. His ability to create space through dragging defenders across the pitch, dart into space and generally be a nuisance in the attacking third will be of benefit to Ronaldo and Bale, who like to cut inside and find a way through usually packed defences.
In doing that, he provides a service that Benzema largely does not. While the Frenchman gets a hard time for his relative lack of movement and seemingly lazy persona, Chicharito provides the opposite and that will immediately endear him to the usually hard-to-please Bernabeu public.
On top of that he also scores goals. Benzema provided an impressive return last season, but he's the kind of player who will miss as many as he scores. Inside the box, especially in and around the 6-yard box, Chicharito is lethal and will take full advantage of Madrid's embarrassment of riches in the creativity department.
He is the more natural finisher and he's more often than not in the right place at the right time to bundle the ball home. Don't let his height deceive you, either. He may not reach the heights of Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, but he can be a danger from set pieces.
The statistics show he scored 59 goals in 154 matches for United but he started only 85 matches, with 69 coming from the bench. His second season was also riddled with injury, making his goals-to-games ratio pretty impressive.
It's an impressive record that is mirrored on the international stage too, with 36 goals coming in 66 appearances for Mexico, a ratio of more than a goal every other game. Comparisons with Hugo Sanchez, a Mexican legend at the Bernabeu with 208 goals in 282 games, were somewhat wide of the mark at Chicharito's unveiling, but his goals record so far is impressive.
The fact he is completely different from Benzema will only help Madrid, too. A sign of struggle for the Frenchman and the Mexican can take to the field to provide new problems for the opposition. Just as opponents are tiring, the fresh legs of the nippy Mexican are the last thing the other team will want to see. His behaviour should not be a problem if he is sitting on the bench more often than not, either. The 26-year-old couldn't hide his delight at joining Madrid at his unveiling and seemed only too happy to help the club in any way he can.
That differs greatly from what Falcao would have provided. While on paper the Colombian, now destined to join Di Maria at Manchester United, is the better player and the bigger star, he may not have been as suited to what Ancelotti is trying to create in his attacking department.
The former Atletico Madrid man will have expected more minutes on the pitch for a start, and he will not have been keen on the idea of providing the goals for Ronaldo, who wants to be the centre of attention, and Bale. He is a goal scorer and he will have been understandably selfish in doing his job. He is also still fully returning from a long-term injury and a risk about his fitness would have been taken.
So while Madrid fans will look on with frustration as Falcao puts pen to paper on a deal at Old Trafford and Chicharito is the man to make way for the Colombian, they should rest assured that they have acquired a player they will soon warm to. He will provide a strong alternative in the No. 9 role, paving the way for players such as Isco and James to play in their more natural position.