Saturday saw Manchester United squeeze past Southampton in an intriguing game. Unlike most cup ties where there is a large gulf of class between the teams, it was a tactical game of fine margins, for which credit must go to Southampton. Ultimatly it was the superior finishing abilities of Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez that separated the sides.
Hernandez is in good form, and is now United’s second top goalscorer with 11 goals. If Wayne Rooney’s poor goalscoring run continues pressure will build for the young Mexican to be given a regular chance from the start. Although it was thought at the start of the season that Hernandez may play wide to gain experience it is clear that he is at his best playing through the center. He possesses fantastic acceleration, a great first touch and a natural goalscoring ability. He is very reminiscent of a younger version of the man he partnered at St Mary’s.
Michael Owen was once the master of running onto a well timed ball over the top and finishing. It is a skill that Hernandez is improving with each game he plays, and in Paul Scholes he has the perfect man to provide him with ammunition. Like Owen, Hernandez seems to be able to sniff out a chance, and as he did earlier in the season against Stoke, improvise in what ever way necessary to score.
Saturday’s game at St Mary’s provided a rare opportunity to see poachers past and present working in tandem. It was strange seeing two men, one with very bright future, and one facing a very uncertain one, who both have such similar footballing characteristics playing together. Owen must look at the explosive acceleration Hernandez possesses with envy, and remember how he once had the footballing world at his feet.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Michael Owen. He looked sharp at St Mary’s, and his goal was classic opportunistic Owen. But nonetheless without the blistering pace which his younger teammate possess’ it is hard to see much of a future for him at the highest level.
Owens difficulty is that throughout his career he has required another striker to play off. This makes him less attractive for middle to lower Premier League sides who may only play one up front or find having a player who only contributes only goals and little a luxury in the battlefield that is the lower reaches of the Premier League. For top sides there are players available who match Owen’s goal return and manage to contribute more.
There are signs that the 31 year old may be attempting a bit of reinvention; he played much of Saturday’s game in a more withdrawn role off Hernandez. Teaching old dogs new tricks is hard, but it may be something he has to do if he is to prolong his Premier League future when his contract runs out this summer.
Meanwhile, Hernandez should take every opportunity he can to learn from Owen whilst he is still at Manchester United. If he can avoid the injuries that destroyed Owen’s career at the highest level, the young Mexican has the potential to match, and maybe surpass, the not inconsiderable achievements of the ex-England striker.