While many Real Madrid fans were clamoring for a big-name striker, such as Radamel Falcao, to come into the club this summer in order to provide competition for Karim Benzema, it’s the loan of a surprise name which might prove to be the better signing.
Real Madrid fans are a fickle lot. In no way is this better exemplified than their relationship with their strikers. Though the halls of the Santiago Bernabeu ring with the names of Di Stefano, Puskas, Santillana, Sanchez, Raul and Ronaldo, recent strikers haven’t felt the same adoration as these legends and these feelings are manifested in Karim Benzema. While virtually the perfect striker to be deployed in Real Madrid’s system, meaning a forward who is happy to be the third wheel in order to facilitate the shot monster Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Benzema is prone to dry spells and fluffing easy opportunities on goal as exemplified in Madrid’s most recent match against Real Sociedad. These faults have led to fans pleading for the club to bring in a known commodity such as Falcao to push Benzema and provide a more direct #9 in the attack, however; the Real Madrid board refused to go down this route and instead pulled off a last day €2.5 million loan of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
On the face of it, this might be a puzzling move given that Hernandez barely featured last season under David Moyes and isn’t the Galactico type of signing that Real Madrid has become known for. So why is this move still an incredibly smart one for Real Madrid? Several reasons come to mind.
First, Madrid added someone who is comfortable with being a rotation option as he’s never played more than 50 percent of minutes available in a single Premier League season. In a team full of stars, adding too many can lead to tension behind the scenes as someone will certainly feel hard done by when it comes to minutes. Hernandez, on the other hand, has primarily served as an option off the bench while at Manchester United and has done so without too many complaints. Him coming in shows Benzema that the club has faith in him while at the same time providing someone to push himself to reach greater heights. Unlike Alvaro Morata last season, there won’t be pressure from the home crowd to play a homegrown Spanish kid in place of Benzema which in turn allows Carlo Ancelotti to make tactical decisions rather than ones serving to appease the crowds.
Secondly, Chicharito is really good off the bench. How good? Well, according to StatsBomb, his goals plus assists per 90 minutes as a starter are 0.71 per game. But as a substitute? A stunning 1.23! When comparing his non-penalty conversion rate, the substitute effect comes into play as well. When serving as a starter, Chicharito’s conversion rate was 19.3%, but as a substitute it dramatically rises to 28%! Additionally, his shots per game go from 2.8 as a starter to 4.21 as a substitute. While we have to take into consideration the substitute effect which is essentially a fresh par or legs running at tired ones, this plays right into Real Madrid’s favor as tired defenders who had to chase around Ronaldo and Bale will have another tall task on their hands as a fresh poacher like Hernandez enters the game in the dying minutes. Given that La Liga defending is a bit more technical and not as clustered and physical as Premier League defending, Hernandez should have ample room to come into the game and run through channels left exposed by weary defenders.
When comparing him to Benzema, Chicharito appears to be everything that the big Frenchman is not. While Benzema is happy to service the big names around him through his intelligent passing, Chicharito is constantly looking to get into a prime position in front of goal. From 2012-14, his non-penalty goals per 90 minutes were a fantastic 0.6 with less than 3.5 shots per game. His shooting percentage was 52.3% with a goal conversion rate of 21.5% (via StatsBomb). However, what will surely please Madrid fans is Hernandez’s work rate. Benzema, for all his talents, often comes under fire for looking lethargic and slow while Chicharito is known to be the opposite of that. Pacey and constantly buzzing around the pitch and being able to finish with his head and both feet, his enthusiasm and effort have rarely been questioned and will surely be welcomed with hard workers such as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric working tirelessly behind him.
Finances come into play as well when evaluating this deal. While Real Madrid is virtually the opposite of a penny-pinching club, they are the owners of three of the most expensive players of all time and not every purchase can be one like James Rodriguez or Gareth Bale. Sometimes, a low-cost option is good for both sides as the club saves money while the player himself isn’t under the overwhelming pressure to live up to his transfer price. He isn’t the world-class striker that many fans clamored for, he just has to be in the right place at the right time to allow his superstar teammates to find him in front of goal, something he’s proven to be more than capable of. Given Chicharito’s resume, willingness to work hard and his low cost to the club, this is a move which may end up being smarter for Real Madrid than any Falcao-sized transfer could’ve been.
All stats on Hernandez via StatsBomb.
Written by Miran Saric.
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