Second-season syndrome is a common affliction and one, it was feared around Old Trafford, Javier Hernandez might have caught a nasty dose of.
In his debut campaign in the Premier League, the Mexican, with his pace, goals and threat, had made a persuasive case for being best newcomer. This season began less impressively and by the turn of the year the "Little Pea" was frequently consigned to his pod come match day. Hernandez did start against Blackburn on New Year's Eve but United lost, he was taken off at half-time and began 2012 benched again.
There he remained, restricted to late cameos for the next five games before being recalled to start against Stoke. Four games later he has four more goals to his name and now only Wayne Rooney has scored more for United this season.
"The goals motivate me and I am feeling good at the moment," said Hernandez in the wake of delivering what turned out to be the decisive strike of the Europa League tie against Ajax on Thursday.
Hernandez began his United career on the bench but from the moment he was introduced in last season's Community Shield, coming on to score against Chelsea, he made a dramatic impression. Lee Dixon wrote in The Independent that he believed Hernandez could one day be as effective as Cristiano Ronaldo. It was Hernandez's pace and willingness to play on the shoulder of defenders that proved so telling, forcing back lines deeper and so creating space for Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov. He also scored goals, 20 of them.
Although there has been a comparative fall-off in his performance this season, there are extenuating circumstances. He first arrived in Manchester off the back of a World Cup campaign and last season was followed by the Concacaf Gold Cup in the United States, in which he was top scorer as Mexico lifted the trophy. United gave him a three-week break afterwards and when he returned to join up with his team-mates on their pre-season tour of the States he was struck on the head by a ball and concussed. Fears over a neurological condition led to doctors ordering rest and as a result he missed most of pre-season.
Danny Welbeck's breezy return to Old Trafford after his season's loan at Sunderland increased competition for places and contributed to Hernandez's frequent watching brief. His form may have fluctuated when he did appear on the pitch but he still managed to make significant contributions, scoring crucial winners at Sunderland and Everton and the equaliser against Liverpool at Old Trafford.
"Last season was very different to this," said Hernandez. "It was a great first season. It made me very happy and I am ready again. The manager has given me his trust and confidence and I want to repay that." His performance in partnership with Berbatov on Thursday, when the Bulgarian's ball did much to set up Hernandez's goal in the 2-1 defeat that took United through 3-2 on aggregate, was further evidence of that restored readiness.
In between working out his own second-season issues, Hernandez has also been helping David de Gea through a rocky opening to his Old Trafford career. At 21, the Spaniard is two years younger than Hernandez and has struggled to adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League.
"David de Gea is a brilliant goalkeeper who will keep learning," said Hernandez. "His confidence has grown, he needs to be calm sometimes because there is a lot of pressure. But game by game you can see his confidence growing, he is proving why Manchester United bought him. I speak the same language and I am going to be there for him."
United midfielder Tom Cleverley is a doubt against Norwich tomorrow after picking up a knock against Ajax. He was sent for a scan yesterday.Reuse content