Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Javier Hernandez struggling with a lack of service at West Ham
Last Updated: 17/10/17 3:08pm
Slaven Bilic is struggling to get the best out of Javier Hernandez at West Ham. Ahead of their Friday Night Football clash with Brighton, Nick Wright examines his tricky start to life in London with help from Mike Phelan, who coached him at Manchester United.
Having watched no fewer than 30 strikers come and go in seven years under owners David Gold and David Sullivan, West Ham supporters were understandably delighted when the club completed the signing of Javier Hernandez in the summer. Here, at long last, was a proven goalscorer with the pedigree to be different.
Hernandez arrived in east London having hit 39 goals in 76 games for Bayer Leverkusen, and his scoring feats for Manchester United were still fresh in the memory too. The Mexican had a reputation for netting big goals at key moments during his time at Old Trafford. In total, he scored 59 times - despite nearly half of his 157 appearances coming from the bench.
He started brightly enough for West Ham, scoring twice against Southampton on his second appearance, but he has only netted once in eight games since then. The optimism that surrounded the club in pre-season has ebbed away. Ahead of the visit of Brighton on Friday, they sit two points above the relegation zone.
From Ilan to Ashley Fletcher, Hernandez has already outscored 20 of the 30 West Ham strikers that came before him, but that remarkable statistic says more about the club's recruitment policy than his own form. Hernandez has struggled to make an impact more often than not. In their last two games, he has not even registered a shot on goal.
The 29-year-old has cut a frustrated figure, but as those who have worked with him will tell you, Chicharito is only as good as his service. "If you're looking for a centre-forward with a history of scoring goals, it doesn't get any better than Javier," Mike Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant at Manchester United, tells Sky Sports.
"But there is another side to it: Can you provide the service for him to score the goals? If the service is there for Chicha in and around the 18-yard box, you can guarantee he's one of those players who will hit the target more often than not, which means he'll score more goals than he'll miss. It's just a question of how you play to him."
So far, it has been a problem. Nobody expected Hernandez to receive the same level of service at West Ham as he did at Manchester United - especially with Dimitri Payet long departed from the London Stadium - but the lack of ammunition has still been striking.
West Ham rank 12th in the Premier League for chances created with 65, and only five of those chances have been deemed clear-cut. In that category, only Huddersfield, Brighton and Bournemouth have created fewer. Hernandez has fed on scraps, in other words. And having converted three of those five clear-cut chances, he can hardly be accused of wastefulness.
West Ham simply aren't getting him into the right positions with enough regularity. Only Swansea have had fewer touches in the opposition box than Bilic's side this season. For Hernandez, a striker who has spent his career at some of the biggest clubs in Europe, it is a dramatic change. He is averaging fewer shots per 90 minutes than at any point in the last eight seasons.
Hernandez has not been helped by Bilic's so-far fruitless attempts to fit him into the same side as Andy Carroll. Against Huddersfield and West Brom last month, he found himself stationed out of position on the left. "You just hope that Chicha isn't judged on a couple of indifferent games in a position which isn't his strongest," says Phelan. "From his point of view, he'll want to be at the top of the pitch."
Bilic moved Hernandez back into a central position for West Ham's last two games, deploying him alongside Carroll in a 4-4-2 formation. The big-man, little-man combination is a throwback which makes sense on paper, with Carroll capable of winning aerial balls for Hernandez to run onto, but there have been few signs of chemistry so far.
Their time on the pitch together was curtailed by Carroll's sending off in the 1-1 draw with Burnley on Saturday, and before that, in West Ham 1-0 victory over Swansea, they only exchanged three passes together all game. In fact, it was only after Chicharito's 78th-minute substitution that West Ham finally broke the deadlock through his replacement, Diafra Sakho.
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Carroll's suspension means yet another change of system against Brighton on Friday night, but Hernandez can at least take heart from the fact that his only goals this season have come when he's played as a lone striker. The return of Manuel Lanzini, who created more chances than any of his West Ham team-mates last season, could also be beneficial.
BIlic is under pressure to make things work sooner rather than later, but according to Phelan, who spent three years with Hernandez at United, he can count on the striker's buy-in. "He's a joy to work with," he says. "He comes in, he's prepared to train, he works hard, he smiles but he also gets annoyed. He's always had all the ingredients of a top player.
"For him to come back to England was a big decision for him. He's not Mexico's top goalscorer for nothing and he's not had the career he's had for nothing. It's up to West Ham to get him in there and show everybody that he's the player who can turn their fortunes around."
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