Javier Hernandez enhanced his burgeoning reputation with two predatory goals to lift Manchester United into the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-1 win over Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday.
Known as “Chicharito,” and wearing the nickname “Little Pea” on his shirt, the Mexican striker tapped in from close range in the fifth minute and again in the 75th as United beat the French champions 2-1 on aggregate.
His lively combinations with Wayne Rooney, winger Nani and substitute Antonio Valencia made up for United’s frailties in a makeshift defense, where centerback Wes Brown headed into his own net in the 82nd minute to ensure a nervous finale.
“He [Hernandez] is a real handful,” Ferguson said. “I think we are surprised [at how he has progressed since joining last July]. When we brought him, we thought it would take some time to adjust at the club, his main roles were as a substitute, but now he has adjusted to the physical part very well and is lasting 90 minutes very well, and that’s given us great options.”
United paid a reported ￡7 million (US$11 million) for Hernandez to Mexican side Guadalajara and Ferguson has said the club’s scouts saved a fortune by identifying him as a transfer target before he shone at last year’s World Cup.
He has scored 16 goals this season, injected pace into the side and inspired striker Wayne Rooney to rediscover his creative touch in a deep-lying position, while keeping top scorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench.
“His movement is fantastic — I think Wayne is thriving on that,” Ferguson said.
The back four were threatened by Marseille, who were unlucky when Andre-Pierre Gignac fired over the bar and unmarked Soulemayne Diawara headed wide with only Edwin van der Sar to beat.
Usual centerbacks Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were ruled out through injury, so Chris Smalling and Wes Brown were thrown together, with John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva forced off with injuries during the game to compound the problems.
“The balance of the team moved quite a lot with two defenders coming off,” Ferguson said. “There is a lack of experience there and that could have cost us.”
Usually referred to by his nickname, which came about because his father — also named Javier and a former Mexico striker — was known as “chicharo” (pea) because of his green eyes.
Hernandez is building something of a match-winning reputation after his goal secured a 1-0 win at Valencia in the group stages in September, while doubles against Stoke City and Wigan Athletic are among his 10 league strikes.
The upshot of his latest double was United reaching the last eight for the fifth successive year.
“The first feeling is of regret, we had the chance to do something better on the night,” Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said. “We didn’t play against a fantastic Manchester United side ... it is a shame we didn’t manage to capitalize on that.”