F365’s early winner: Chicharito and the power of two

Date published: Saturday 1st December 2018 6:19 - Ian Watson

Manuel Pellegrini suggested last week that he wasn’t entirely happy with Javier Hernandez‘s contribution since he took over at West Ham. Before the trip to Newcastle, the striker was happy to make it clear that the feeling was entirely mutual.

 “There is an exit door and another in the summer. I am happy here but I want to play more. I am not ruling it out but at the same time it needs to be for a top club and that is the case now or in the summer.”

Judging Hernandez on his form since moving to east London, it is difficult to imagine too many ‘top clubs’ queueing up to take from West Ham their highest earner and the player who this season has been their greatest liability. But a brace at St James’ Park, his first since August 2017, may have arrived just in the nick of time for both player and club.

This was just his third start of the season and the Hammers’ 3-0 victory represented just the third time since March 3 that Chicharito has completed 90 minutes. It was a rare opportunity for the 30-year-old and whether he was looking to prove a point to Pellegrini or put himself in the shop window, by achieving one of those aims, he also accomplished the other.

A goal in each half demonstrated all the assets West Ham expected for the £16million they paid Bayer Leverkusen. His first strike on 11 minutes – just as the few protesting Newcastle fans were belatedly taking their seats – showcased his movement and awareness in the box when flummoxing the home defence by spinning off Federico Fernandez at the near post to dispatch Robert Snodrass’s cross from the right. His second on 63 minutes, around the time Pellegrini has removed Hernandez on his two previous starts, highlighted his pace and timing to spring Newcastle’s offside trap before a smart finish inside the near post.

Marko Arnautovic’s form as a central striker has limited Hernandez’s opportunities this term, with the Austrian leading the Hammers’ line commendably, usually as a lone frontman. Even when Hernandez has played, the former Manchester United goal poacher has struggled to plough a lone furrow. At St James’ Park, he got the help he needed.

Hernandez did not create the space for his opener on his own. Arnautovic recognised the opportunity for his strike partner and dragged his marker to the near post to leave Hernandez the space to spin into. For the second goal, there was a more direct role for Arnautovic, who put Hernandez in behind with a deft flick of the head.

It was not a headline-grabbing performance from Arnautovic but still an effective one. Rumours suggest both forwards could be on their way in January in vastly contrasting circumstances. But this victory suggests they can thrive together if the Hammers resist the temptation to sell.

Hernandez could have had a hat-trick. He managed four shots on goal, the joint-highest amount in a single game since he joined West Ham, and though he wasted one of those opportunities shortly before netting his second, that chance again came as a result of his clever movement across and through Newcastle’s defence.

Before the window opens, Pellegrini has an opportunity to give Hernandez the opportunity to get the momentum he has lacked so far this term. The 13th-placed Hammers’ five matches over the festive period see them face four sides below them in the table with Watford the only upcoming opponent looking down on them. If Hernandez is ever to get a run alongside a partner and demonstrate that he can contribute to Pellegrini’s plans, then his time is now.

Ian Watson

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