Pablo Hernandez who once played in La Liga, is now instrumental this season for Leeds United as they once again push for promotion from the EFL Championship, and as it stands are top of the division. This analysis will examine Hernandez’s role in the tactics Marcelo Bielsa employs at Leeds United. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of key actions from this season while also comparing how Hernández performs in comparison to his counterparts in the league using data analysis.
Hernández most vital contribution is his attacking output specifically his ability to create opportunities for his teammates. While Hernández threat in front of goals may not be his most renowned ability, he can still hold his own in the division.
For this article, the sample selected for the data analysis includes attacking midfielders and wingers who have played over 600 minutes in the Championship so far this season.
Hernández scores a goal for every 375 minutes he plays in the league which is a level higher than 68% of the sample selected for this Analysis, while Hernández also scores at a rate higher than expected considering his ‘Expected goal’ statistic would suggest he should score once every 450 minutes based on the quality of the chances he has.
The above example illustrates a typical shooting position for Hernández with many of his shot locations being on the edge of the box, slightly more skewed to the right-hand side. On this occasion, the shot was blocked but Hernández showed excellent determination to follow the action and challenge the loose ball.
Hernández successfully gathers the ball and shows natural instinct and quick feet to cut the ball back beating the defender and finding space between the two centre backs, presenting the opportunity to shoot, which he dutifully converts before the covering defender is able to get close enough to block the shot. Hernández is an adept dribbler who wins 44.51% of his offensive duels, an achievement that places him in the top 25% of attacking midfielders and wingers in the Championship, Hernández also completes 58.14% of his dribbles once again placing him as one of the top performers in the sample, the top 18% specifically.
While the quality of Hernández ‘s dribbling is one of the best in the league the quantity of his ball-carrying abilities is not as impressive. His 2.28 progressive runs per 90 are still very respectable and place him in the top quarter of the sample, conversely, his 6.55 offensive duels per 90 leave him in the bottom 16% of the sample and remains an area that Hernandez should look to increase.
Hernández’s main attacking output is not the opportunities he converts for his team but instead the ones he is able to create. Wyscout produces a metric called ‘Smart passes’ which records passes that breakthrough opposition defensive lines.
Hernández completes 2.6 of these per 90 which impressively is a level no other player in the Championship can match, an example of how effective these passes can be at breaking down an opponent’s defence can be seen below.
In this scenario Hernández is able to find the gap between two opposition defenders and plays his teammate in behind the defensive line allowing him the opportunity to cross, although the end result of this attack is a blocked shot, Hernández played a key part in creating an opportunity for his team.
This is not the only pass Hernández exceeds in as he completes 2.44 through balls per 90 as well which once again puts him in the extremities of our sample as the 95th percentile. On this occasion, Hernández drifts inside and due to the threat he possesses, this encourages the defenders to form a tighter structure creating space for the overlapping fullback to attack. Below you can see the figure that illustrates his progressive passes which need no further explanation, Hernández ’s eye for a pass is most defiantly his key strength.
A key factor in Hernández ability to create so many chances for his team is his awareness of the space on the pitch. He often makes similar runs to the one in the example below where he finds the space in between the opposition centre back and full back, this area is often referred to as the ‘half-space’.
Operating in this area gives Hernández the opportunity to play very threatening passes very near the opposition’s goal as he completes 0.64 crosses into the goalie’s box per 90 while making 5.27 passes into the penalty box per 90 both figures put him in the top 15% for attacking midfielders and wingers in the Championship in those metrics.
Although Hernández plays a vital role in the build-up creating space and opportunities for his teammates to deliver the ball into the box, Hernández is more than cable of producing the final ball himself contributing 0.24 assists per 90. A figure which is below what we would expect him to register given the quality of the chances he generated he is expected to create 0.31 assists per 90 which is a rate which is superior to 95% of the other attacking midfielders and wingers in the division.
Role in transition
Hernández is vital in Leeds build-up and transition, and in their current tactics often drops very deep to receive the ball. His dribbling and passing range allow him to receive the ball in tight spaces then turn or dribble into space before he attempts to find the run of a teammate.
Here Hernández drops into a position just above Leeds defence, Hernández has an incredibly valuable skill set in this area as he is very aware of his surroundings as he scans the pitch before he receives the ball. This allows him to use his dribbling ability to beat the opposition player who has attempted to press and then try and play the ball over the top to his teammate whose run he saw developing earlier in the play. A good headed clearance prevents a dangerous move.
Again Hernández drops deep to receive the ball from the defenders, in this situation he is able to use his skill on the ball to quickly change his body orientation to be facing forward allowing him to see and play the pass to the teammate making a run in behind. This role is incredibly important in Leeds tactics for getting in behind the opposition. Hernández’s 2.86 deep completed passes per 90 place him in the 96th percentile for attacking midfielders and wingers in the division in this statistic, for a team that often faces rigid defence the ability to create from a deeper position is vital.
In the previous examples when Hernández dropped deep, he looked to play forward releasing players making runs out wide. In this case with the opposition team in a very structured block, Hernández looks to switch the play as Leeds look to play past the first two lines of the oppositions press, and attempt to progress the ball down the opposite less congested flank. Since Leeds often are confronted with deep blocks Hernández often attempts this pass completing 0.43 completed crosses per 90 which puts him in the top 10% of the sample.
The figure above illustrates the amount of passes Hernández plays per 90, a strong proportion of Hernández passes are forward, so much so that he is in the top percentile of attacking midfielders and wingers in the division for this action. The above diagram also portrays Hernández preference for occupying the right of the attack with the wealth of his crosses coming from that side, although he can swap wings to further disrupt the opposition defence with 18% of his crosses coming from the left. Generally, the arrows are a very light shade of blue which shows that Hernández is often unsuccessful in his passes.
Naturally, since Hernández attempts a lot of riskier passes, he also losses the ball more than most, this itself should not be criticised and is indicative of the role he plays. There is still scope for Hernández to improve his efficiency as his through pass success rate is only 32.79% which is only marginally above average in the sample, similarly, his smart pass success rate is only 40% once again placing him very near the average.
In this case, Hernández tries to play the ball to Alioski who is one of Leeds most dangerous players on the counter but has an opposition player marking him. In this instance, it would be better for Hernández to play it into the path of Klich who then has better passing angles to set others off on the counter. This remains an area in which Hernández can improve his game.
Hernández has a superb defensive contribution as a forward making 2.72 tackles per 70 which is more than 98% of the rest off the offensive midfielders in the league. This contributes to the 5.27 successful defensive actions per 90 which are slightly less impressive in comparison to the rest of the players in the sample given as for this measure he is in the top 20%. This is likely to be brought down by the fact that Hernández only competes in 5.71 defensive duels per 90 which are only marginally above the sample average.
The diagram above shows some of the key qualities needed for a player in Hernández ’s position, while the red circle represents the leagues average for his position and every 10th percentile is represented by a grey line.
The data clearly suggests Hernández is one of the divisions best creators ranking in the top percentiles for many of the key passing stats, the scenarios reviewed in this article also support what the data suggests. What is currently unclear is what level Leeds United will be playing next season if they were to gain promotion Hernández would have been vital to that achievement.