Big boss and ‘little pea’ behind Man United’s rise

Rob Hughes

Manchester United is back on top of the English league principally because of the instincts of two men - one a 70-year-old Scot, the other a 24-year-old Mexican. When United lost the Premiership title to Manchester City in the last minute of the last game of last season, it came down to a single reason: The teams were tied on points after a 10-month campaign, but City had scored more goals.

Never again, vowed United's team manager, Alex Ferguson. He could not stop the money from Abu Dhabi that is fueling City, but his 55 years spent playing, coaching and managing soccer have always been about two things: picking yourself up after a defeat, and finding people to put the ball in the opponent's net.

This new season is barely a third of the way through. United's defense is shot through with injuries, which means it is unusually vulnerable. But its attack is better because Sir Alex was determined that it would be. On Saturday, United went two goals down to Aston Villa half way through the match. Robin van Persie, bought from Arsenal as a direct response to losing the title last May, and Wayne Rooney, were already on the field, but the boss decided that was not enough. Villa was defending in depth, packing its penalty area. What was needed was a stealthier approach, a player who could get between the lines of the defenders, infiltrate them and steal goals. Ferguson took off one of his wingers, Ashley Young, and replaced him during halftime with the Mexican forward, Javier "Chicharito" Hernández.

A pickpocket in the goalmouth if ever there was one, Chicharito is a different type of striker from any other in the English league. He is not about power or simply about physical speed. He lurks in the shadows, he senses opportunities, he preys on the hesitation of defenders and springs to life in the space of just a few yards, inches even.

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