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Why Spain thinks Chicharito is Barca's biggest worry

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Phil Minshull | 16:42 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

Ask any Spaniard who Barcelona should be most afraid of when they face Manchester United on Saturday, and the most likely answer is not Wayne Rooney or the hugely admired Ryan Giggs but the man they call Chicharito.

"Hugo Sanchez was one of the best goal scorers in Mexican football history and during his time in Madrid he was a nightmare for Barcelona. Now, the son of one of his former team-mates could be the man to beat Barcelona," wrote the Spanish football magazine Don Balon a week ago.

No regular watcher of the Premier League needs me to tell you why Barca should fear Javier Hernandez - the offspring of former Mexico striker Javier Hernandez Gutierrez - when he's on the field.

The debate in Spain about who Sir Alex Ferguson will field at Wembley sees almost every pundit believing Barca stand a better chance of beating United if the Premier League champions opt for the more conservative 4-5-1 formation, with Rooney as the sole front man to start with.

Javier Hernandez

There is a large amount of jealousy that no La Liga club signed Hernandez. Photo: PA

Even at the start of the season, after the summer tour of the United States and the FA Community Shield but before he'd made his Premier League debut, the Spanish media were eulogising Chicharito.

"He's the most significant arrival at United for several years. After they [United] fell short against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals last year, he could herald a return to the [Champions League] final after they had made it there in the two seasons before," wrote the Spanish newspaper Marca last August.

Part of the reason why Chicharito is so embedded in the Spanish psyche as United's potential bogey man is probably because of a sense of jealousy that no La Liga club was on the ball enough to sign him 18 months ago, around the time United started to make overtures about taking him to Manchester.

I am fairly sure that several scouts for Spanish clubs in Mexico have been hauled over the coals at not making their employers or clients aware of Chicharito's talent when he was at Guadalajara, where he had been playing since the age of nine.

After all, Mexico has been a provider of plenty of players for Spanish clubs over the years.

Barcelona themselves not so long ago recruited Giovani dos Santos - who wants to stay in Spain after a successful second half of the season on-loan from Spurs to Racing Santander - and then his brother Jonathan while they were teenagers and schooled them in their famous La Masia academy.

Historically, the best of all the Mexican players ever to have plied their trade in La Liga may have been Sanchez but in last summer's Mexico squad that went tothe World Cup, alongside Chicharito, there was Deportivo La Coruna's Andres Guardado and Barcelona's Rafael Marquez, although the latter soon moved on to the New York Red Bulls.

Parochial as it may seem, a good number of Spanish fans still think that every Spanish-speaking player should have the same attitude as Guardado who said upon his arrival at the Galician club in 2007: "I wanted to move to a Spanish club so I don't have any problems with the language and the non-Hispanic culture."

Talent alone doesn't just explain why Spain, not just Barca fans, fears Chicharito. Some of it also comes down to sheer green-eyed envy that Manchester United managed to whisk him away from under various La Liga clubs' noses.

The purported transfer fee of £6m has also had Spanish commentators echoing what some English blogs have been suggesting, that he is Ferguson's best value signing in his 25 years as manager at Old Trafford.

Real Madrid fans

Real Madrid fans are likely to give Manchester United their full backing on Saturday. Photo: Getty

Just about any La Liga club could have come up with that sort of money, and most wish they had.

However, just as the thought of Chicharito leaves plenty of Barca fans in a cold sweat - of course, many people also mention the danger of Rooney in front of goal but almost as an afterthought - there has been much smacking of lips in the Barcelona-biased media about the perceived weakness on the right side of United's defence.

The view has been regularly expressed in recent weeks that Ferdinand is not quite what he once was and whoever plays at right-back, whether it is O'Shea or Rafael, is a weak link that Messi, Villa and others will happily exploit.

It was O'Shea and Ferdinand who were on duty when the two teams last faced each other in the 2009 final in Rome, and Messi managed to make the pair look very ordinary far too often before getting the second goal that clinched the 2-0 victory 20 minutes from time.

The fact that the final will be played at Wembley also doesn't seem to dampen Barca spirits either.

"Wembley is a symbolic venue for Barca as much as Manchester United," added Don Balon, noting that Barcelona's first European Cup triumph - just like United's - came in London.

Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone with a passing knowledge of the politics of Spanish football, not all of the country will be urging Barcelona on to victory from in front of their television screens.

Manchester United will be getting vocal support from a fair number of disgruntled Real Madrid supporters, many still seething about their semi-final defeat to the Catalan club.

During a quick trawl of a few bars in and around Madrid last weekend, I chatted to various Real fans and quickly established that quite a significant percentage - I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess at a number given the unscientific way the research was done - were prepared to put the club rivalry and traditional enmity above national loyalty.

However, vice-versa, you don't have to have astonishing powers of insight to realise that there might also be a few Liverpool and Manchester City fans cheering for Barcelona on Saturday night.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I know what you mean, but "Barcelona's Rafael Marquez, although the latter soon moved on to the New York Red Bulls." suggests he wasn't at Barca for very long, whereas in fact he had a long and successful career there:

  • Comment number 3.

    I worry about his quicksilver movement against Pique and Puyol, its the one weakness they have....

  • Comment number 4.

    chicharito will annoy puyol

  • Comment number 5.

    Anyone who thinks that Rooney will be the main source of danger against Barca is delusional. Chicharito has not only performed better this season, especially given how long he's played, but his ability to score a goal whether Man Utd win or lose is vital.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just can't see past a Barcelona win.

    However much I hate United I'll always support the domestic teams, but even wearing my most optimistic of British Propaganda tinted lenses you just can't see it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Javier Hernandez has been a revelation, I admit that I'd heard nothing about him until that game against France in the World Cup.

    As much as I hate Fergie's mind-games and moanings, you can't fault the signings he has made, as far as his greatest signing ever, surely Cantona for £1.2million would have to be considered for that?

  • Comment number 8.

    Hernandez has had a great 1st season, hopefully he will continue to learn and won't suffer from the dreaded 'second season syndrome' where defenders work him out, and the player thinks he's made it.

    One note of caution for Saturday's game - the likely money is on Utd playing their usual away-day formation of 4-5-1 which has served them very well this season in the ECL and they haven't conceded a single goal - Hernandez (with the exception of Valencia away where he came on as sub) has not scored or excelled as the lone striker in any of these games, indeed Chelsea away he has rather innocuous and was replaced after 65 mins.

    Maybe SAF will opt to put him on after an hour and test out Pique & Puyol with his speed, as none of the Barca defenders have what you'd call electric pace.

  • Comment number 9.

    Chicharito to make puyol think about retirement

  • Comment number 10.

    This is the United team which will start:

    -------------------Van Der Sar------------------





    With Hernandez coming on if United are losing, if not, Nani and Scholes.

  • Comment number 11.


    I don't see how you can make that statement with any conviction. Firstly Chicharito has had few problems settling into the pace of the English game, his language skills have also helped him settle in and I expect him to help out De Gea next season as well but I digress.

    Secondly, having observed him for a season, he seems like a very loyal, level-headed character. As long as we are in the hunt for trophies and he is scoring goals, I see him in our colours for years to come.

  • Comment number 12.


    Are you reading the same write ups as me? Pretty much everything I've read gives Utd. no chance, so not sure what "British Propaganda' has to do with it

  • Comment number 13.

    he is not SAF best value signing, Schmiechel and Solskjaer would have something to say about that, But he could certainly turn into one of the best buys SAF has ever made, Barca should fear him on Saturday, i think utd will win as they will want to erase the memory of that fateful night two years ago.

  • Comment number 14.

    He's an OK player. Not great. He just looks good in a good team like United who like to get it in the box and he snaps up rebounds and headers etc.

  • Comment number 15.

    Sir Alex Ferguson needs to play a 4-4-1-1 with our best defenders, Valencia, Giggs, Park, and Carrick and then Rooney as the transition between Chicharito and the rest of the midfield. This is the best team against FC Barcelona.

  • Comment number 16.

    ....By our best defenders I meant..Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, and Fabio.

  • Comment number 17.

    Cantona as Ferguson's best signing?

    Surely Schmeichel at £500k, or even Solskjaer for a paltry £1.5m.

    However you view it, Hernandez has the potential to be one of his best. Much will depend on how he can build on his debut season, however...

  • Comment number 18.

    Absolute quality player. So much more effective than Berbatov. Reminds me of Michael Owen before he turned into a washed-up has been at Newcastle. Non-stop movement, great finishing and a desire to work hard for the team. He's the perfect foil for someone like Rooney, who likes to drift back and pick up the ball from deep.

    United have to go with him and Rooney as that's their best attacking policy. It is what has served them so well the last 3 or 4 months. If they play 5 in midfield, yes they might constrict more space, but they won't be as potent going forward. The problem for United is somone like Nani, who although has plenty going forward is not very disciplined so won't be of much use against Barcelona, so they don't really have much choice. 4-4-2 and look to counter, hope Barca waste chances.

  • Comment number 19.

    My beloved Reds will need to play at their peak on Saturday to beat our friends of Barca. We will need most of all,pace,especially in our back four. And ball retention will be paramount. Give the ball away to Baca and it may be a while before you get it back.
    On both these counts,O'Shea fails the test.
    I have never seen a player with so many games under his belt..give the ball so much to the opposition.And his speed (?)off the mark will see Xavi and co have a field day. Sorry,but Raph or Fabio has to play right back.Their attacking instincts,in tandem with Tony V will worry the left side of their defence.
    Love United...Hate Glazer.

  • Comment number 20.

    @19: Agreed, on all counts. That's the team without a doubt. Barca are probably still favourites, but if our guys play like they played against Chelsea, particularly in that lightning first half, we'll give them a hell of a run for their money.

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 22.

    I completely agree with 1878onwards, that is the team that should take to the pitch. It will be tough, but we have a chance, we just have to take our chances when they come. It might have been a completely different game in 2009 if Park had scored with his early chance. let's not rue that kind of miss again.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why I think we can win.

    Firstly, let me say how much I admire this current Barcelona side, and particularly the worlds 3 best players right now, namely Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Having been to the Camp Nou and felt the aura that surrounds the place if we have to loose to a club, even if we have to get taught a football lesson, there is no shame in loosing to this team.

    Having said that, I dont believe that will happen. I have placed my money on a 3-1 united victory.

    This United is far greater than the sum of its individual parts, perhaps as much as any of the top sides in recent memory they have forged a team that is balanced sweetly and on their day can beat anyone. They are incredibly solid at the back, a record of not having conceded an away goal in Europe for well over a year speaks for itself. They have the greatest manager alive, one who has made mistakes in the past, and at times has got tactics wrong in big games, but importantly, he rarely makes the same mistake twice.

    Most importantly, the team I hope and believe he will pick on Sat almost picks itself. The only doubt I have is who will start at right back. This will be one of the most important decisions, I would love to see Fabio get the nod, but would be nervy about his naivety and rashness in the tackle at times. He could however, announce himself to the world in this game. I think Fergie might play it safe in his mind and go with O'Shea (please no) or even Fletcher - a big game player who might just be tasked with attempting to stop Messi.

    Other than that, I think he will use the midfield of Park, Carrick, Giggs and Valencia. Rooney will play as a deep lying forward and Hernandez up top.

    This I believe gives us almost perfect balance between compact defensive lines that aim to reduce the time and space and stop the golden trio from dominating the game. Barca's weakness is at the back, stopping them dominating also involves putting pressure on Pique as he brings the ball from defence and looks for one of the three to pass too. Hernandez is brilliant at this - he never stops harrying and closing down.

    Leaving Valencia out wide is the perfect out ball from defence. Giggs, Park, Rooney and Carrick have the long range passing ability and speed of thought to spot the gaps they will leave at the back and I place Hernandez as one of the best in the world at splitting defenders and spotting any lapses in positioning, he also has blistering pace that can punish Barca if the play too high a line. We need the precision, pace and guile of our classic counter-attacking game to be at its best.

    Overall, we are obviously underdogs. The media love this Barca team and praise them highly with good reason, with equal measure, they scorn the current United side unfairly. I think the football world is in for a shock this Sat.

    If i'm wrong however, I will happily stand and applaud as they collect the trophy.

    Come on Boys. Believe!

  • Comment number 24.

    I want 2c nani in d startin line up cos he has al it teks 2 decide games n he has shown it dis season.if u look intently u find dt he his d best option up front.he did it against bayern last season alhto we lost,bt dis tym am sure we can win.
    United 4 lyf.

  • Comment number 25.

    Line Up:- GK: Van Der Sar, DEF: Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, MID: Valencia, Carrick, Fletcher, Park, ATT: Giggs, Rooney Formation, probably turn into 4.5.1. when defending and 4.3.3. on the counter attack with Giggs supporting Rooney. Rooney best upfront to try and knick ball of Barca defence, as all their attacks start from the defence. Park would stop Alves overlapping and support Fletcher in hounding Xavi and Iniesta off the ball. Carrick recieve ball from defence and supply attack. Valencia great at supporting defence, which is why I think Fabio should play as he would be protected against Pedro but he is also great going forward too.

    Possibly Fletcher on right to replace Valencia in line up, which would allow Hernandez to start up front with Rooney dropping into deep to crowd midfield.

    He hasn't played for much of the second half of the season, but I think Manchester Uniteds best chance in this game depends on whether Fletcher is fit and ready to be in the starting line-up. I know alot of people don't rate him, and he's not exactly Keano, but I think he does his job well and he as well as Hargreaves was the missing link in 09 champs league final and Fergie highly rates him. C'mon UNITED!!!!

  • Comment number 26.

    we need not fear barca, respect, yes, fear no, they will be as scared of rooney and chicarito, as we are of villa and messi, get park to terrorise messi, no need to tackle just steer him to vidic or ferdinand, let the full backs do there jobs and hit them hard and fast on the break, with valencia, giggs, rooney and chico, box to box in 10 seconds without the long ball, why need football be perfect when it can be so simple. the team of the 90's was so effective due to its pace, you attack, lose the ball, bish bash bosh they were in your 18 yard box, simlples !

  • Comment number 27.

    I worry about all this talk of 4-5-1, flood the midfield, stop them playing, etc. I think Utd are at their best when they take the game to the opposition, and I think that would work against Barca.

    True they may spend more time without the ball, and might look to counter, but Chicarito and Rooney for 90mins or a significant part of the game is more potent than stifling Barca and going for 1-0. I hope they go for it.

  • Comment number 28.

    It's more likely that Fergie will go will with a more cautious line-up at least for the first half, seeing how it was that early few minutes that lost the final last time.

    Bring Hernandez on at half-time/60+minute markwhen Puyol/Pique are slightly tired and see how things go.

    I'd love for him to start, but I'm not sure 4-4-2 vs Barca is a good idea.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ Downwithstevenage

    You've got to be kidding me - do you not know anything about football







  • Comment number 30.

    i give all my sorpt to barca to win manu

  • Comment number 31.

    Chicharito is quick and direct. Piquet, Pujol, Alves, Abidal and Co will be thoroughly tested by the Mexican and his fellow Red Devils.

    Nice and interesting blog Phil.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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