In the 90′s and the early 2000′s the best strikers in the Premier League were players who didn’t have exceptional skill. They were just there in the penalty box at the right time and place and so eventually managed to scored lot of goals.Robbie Fowler,Michael Owen and Ruud Van Nistelrooy are the prime examples. But after the mid 2000′s if we looked around the Premiership,we could hardly find players of that sort in the top clubs.We couldn’t find any player in the team who was there only to score goals. In the present age of 4-3-3′s and 4-2-3-1′s one simply cant afford to have a striker who contributes nothing to the build up play.
One can also notice a lack of poachers coming up from the youth level. So all the pundits and the football world agreed that the poachers are a dying breed and Inzaghi, Huntelaar were the last remaining survivors. One reason that the present-day managers don’t prefer poachers is that the false nines, trequartistas like Messi,Rooney do so much more. Or even the big man striker like Crouch, Drogba or Zigic is also preferred as they can hold up play,provide knock downs and are a very good aerial threat.
But this season Javier Hernandez’s spectacular rise has again confirmed the fact that history does repeat itself. Hernandez has been a master in being at the right time and place and hitting the back of the net. A 20 goal return in his debut season is fantastic for someone so young. Manchester United have generally played a 4-4-1-1 formation this season in the big games with Rooney playing the trequarista and Hernandez ahead of him playing the poacher role. But how did this work as the poacher was believed to be extinct in the modern game? Even Jonathan Wilson believed poachers are no longer part of the modern game(Read Here). So is Hernandez an exception or are we going to see a re-birth of the poachers? There are two important points to look into the Hernandez example.
Hernandez is much more than a poacher
Although to a normal viewer, Javier Hernandez doesn’t seem to do much on the field other than scoring goals he has an important effect on the opposition. Because of Hernandez’s pace many teams this season opted to play a deeper line than usual which meant that their midfield got less of a support than usual.
Hernandez’s off- the- ball running and ability to find space is brilliant. His off- the- ball running stretches defences and drags the center backs out of their positions. Center backs hate to come of their area either into midfield or into wide areas as it means that the team loses its shape.
Against quality opposition Hernandez hasn’t really clicked
The Champions league final was a huge disappointed for Manchester United fans all over the world,and there was a general consensus among all the pundits that SAF got his tactics wrong(Read Here). Hernandez didn’t get a sniff of the ball that night, Barcelona bravely played a high line and Hernandez was caught offside regularly. He didn’t have much impact on the game and where as at the opposite end Lionel Messi playing the perfect false nine was ripping the United defense to shreds. It clearly showed in the modern game where complex roles like False nines, trequartistas exist there is no place for the classic poacher. But this was not one off, Hernandez was poor against both Arsenal and Chelsea away where both times United lost. He was more in the games against Chelsea as they also played at times with two strikers. But with teams with modern formations like Arsenal i.e 4-2-3-1 Hernandez struggled.
Against top quality opposition,the poacher of the days gone by is of no use. In the modern game everyone has to do a lot more than stick on to a particular role.One’s role in the general build up play and also when defending is becoming more and more important as the beautiful game is increasingly being played in the mind of the managers.It has become more intriguing and captivating for tactics-fanatics for me.We won’t get to see a Robbie Fowler or a Gary Lineker anymore in the Premier League,but its the same DNA which is in players like Hernandez. But they need to adapt and involve themselves more in the build up play to survive. Whether Hernandez is the first case of the modern-day poacher only time will tell, otherwise he looks to have a bright future ahead of him at Old Trafford.