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Rediff.com  » Sports » Hernandez proves a prolific alternative to Raul

Hernandez proves a prolific alternative to Raul

Last updated on: April 25, 2011 12:47 IST

Ferguson mulled buying Raul

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As Schalke 04 are carried to new heights by the Champions League's most experienced player, Manchester United's hopes are being increasingly pinned on a man expected to play only a peripheral role this season.

The teams meet in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in Germany on Tuesday with Schalke striker Raul Gonzalez bidding to add to his extraordinary tale of success in the competition.

The 33-year-old former Spain striker has won the competition three times with Real Madrid, has made more appearances and scored more goals than any other player.

United manager Alex Ferguson said this week that he considered signing Raul last summer but, with Michael Owen filling the ageing striker role and Mexican youngster Javier Hernandez already signed up to join Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, he eventually decided to pass.


Image: Raul of Schalke 04
Photographs: Getty Images
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Hernandez has already scored 19 goals this season

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"We were tempted," Ferguson said. "He had a fantastic career at Real but players like that always find something in terms of ambition, they don't just wither away."

Had Ferguson had any idea of what impact Hernandez would make in his first season he would not have wasted his time looking elsewhere.

The Mexico striker with Chicharito or "little pea" on his shirt, headed the late goal that secured a 1-0 Premier League win over Everton on Saturday and also took his tally to 19, many of them vital, as his 7 million pounds ($11.16 million) price tag already looks a bargain.


Image: Javier Hernandez
Photographs: Reuters
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Hernandez-Rooney partnership blossoming

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Hernandez has developed an excellent partnership with Wayne Rooney, allowing the England man to play in his preferred, deeper role, and has overtaken Dimitar Berbatov as Ferguson's first choice striker.

"Javier has done better than everyone expected," Ferguson said of the 22-year-old after Saturday's winner.

"We thought that because it was his first year, he would just get used to the English game and get strengthened up. He has passed all those tests.

"He is fantastic at taking up positions inside the penalty box. It's natural. He has the instinct to move around and his timing is terrific.

"There have only been a few top strikers who have had that quality."

Hernandez and Rooney both played the full 90 minutes in scorching conditions on Saturday after Berbatov was ruled out with a groin problem having missed the previous game with a virus.


Image: Manchester United's Javier Hernandez (right) celebrates with teammate Wayne Rooney
Photographs: Getty Images
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Hernandez header vs Everton took Man U six points clear

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It was hardly the ideal preparation for Tuesday's trip and, although Ferguson did rest Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick, substitutes Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs were both forced into action as Everton proved a tough nut to crack.

Hernandez's 84th-minute goal, another where he showed his remarkable aerial ability for a small man, proved enough and United remain six points clear with four games remaining in the Premier League.

With the next two league games being against title rivals Arsenal and Chelsea -- and the second leg of the Schalke semi-final squeezed in between -- Ferguson is going to need all his resources with no injuries to key personnel.

Nani and Antonio Valencia both played against Everton, the latter setting up the goal, but Ferguson is likely to keep things tighter for the first leg with Nani probably the man to miss out for the midfield security provided by Carrick.


Image: Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson (right) and Javier Hernandez
Photographs: Getty Images
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