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Javier Hernández

Los Angeles Galaxy, 2020–

Javier Hernández was already Mexico’s record goalscorer when he agreed to leave Sevilla and La Liga for Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer. Moving for a fee of €8.5m and agreeing a reported salary of $6m that makes him MLS’ highest paid figure – he is also earning more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic was until his departure in December 2019 – he signed a three-year contract to potentially leave European football behind him forever.

For all of his ability, suggestions persist that he has never fulfilled the potential he demonstrated when forming so promising a strike partnership with Wayne Rooney at Manchester United on their way to the 2011 Champions League final, later tempting Real Madrid to sign him on loan. He rarely performed to his best while at West Ham, prior to joining Sevilla, and 2016/17, spent at Bayer Leverkusen, represented the last season at which a once prolific goalscorer recorded more than 10 league goals. “I’m going to be playing,” Hernández said when joining the Galaxy. “That’s what I want in my life. People are going to say it was because I couldn’t make it (in Europe), but sometimes in football there are things that are not in your hands.”

Tactical analysis
Hernández has, throughout his career and despite suggestions he is a player competing in the wrong era, featured as a striker. His movements are often directed towards attacking at the near post, because of his preference to run across those defending. If this has contributed to him flashing across goal low balls aimed at him, his ability to quickly adapt and to readjust his body to face the in-possession teammate and then the goal contributes to making him so effective at finishing towards the corners of a goal without breaking his running stride.

It is also that that has brought so many goals from so little contact with the ball. Even if his preference is to move across his marker, he offers constant wider movements across or around central defenders; he often alternates between moving into the spaces just in front of those central defenders, to avoid being permanently marked by one of them, and represents enough of a distraction that opponents have no choice but to consistently assess his positioning.

His final movements are always penetrative. So natural a goalscorer will almost always pursue the spaces behind a defence, which means he will relish accurate passes into those areas (below), either from crosses from wider positions, or through balls from central territory. Hernández’s sense of space within those central areas helps to create positions from which to shoot, regardless of his starting point. It will not always be possible to run towards the near post, therefore making his sense of where defensive pressure is, and his ability to position himself in the most effective spaces, particularly valuable. If the attempted assist is accurate, his effort on goal can be expected to be similarly so.

Should a defender misjudge their footing, stray from their defensive line or leave a space available he will adapt and time his movement towards that area. Moving too early risks defenders detecting his intentions and blocking his path or marking him; moving too late will almost certainly mean the potential opportunity passing him by.

Role at LA Galaxy
In the two appearances he made for LA Galaxy, prior to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Hernández demonstrated signs of promise. As at Sevilla, he is expected to consistently lead their attack as a central striker, perhaps within a 4-3-3 formation.

He offers far less of a physical presence than did Ibrahimovic, one of his predecessors in Los Angeles, but provides superior penetrative movements in behind defences. In Seville, midfielders Éver Banega, Joan Jordan and Fernando therefore swiftly advanced possession into areas from which defences could be tested (below), particularly in the moments after a regain.

Though he is less influential in deeper positions and when attempting to link play, Hernández’s small frame contributes to him winning free-kicks via fouls, especially against less composed defenders. It also means that he struggles to compete for possession after direct, long balls, regardless of the impressive height he is capable of jumping – a lack of height and power ultimately means that he can struggle against often-larger bodies while mid-air.  The aerial threat he offered at Sevilla came when attacking movements were offered by teammates elsewhere within the final third. Munir Haddadi, Franco Vazquez, Nolito and Lucas Ocampos often moved into positions to attack the penalty area, contributing to opponents having less awareness of Hernández’s intentions.

The Mexican’s intelligent and calculated movements ensured that spaces were created – ones from which he offered potential not only from the ground, but in the air. Further overlapping runs from full-back – Jesús Navas, Sergio Escudero, and Alejandro Pozo offered those under Julen Lopetegui with Sevilla – and from attacking central midfielders led to the creation of the cutbacks, away from opposing defenders, on which Hernández thrives.

Javier Hernández

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