Pablo Hernández. “El Mago”. The Magician. The creative force who is crucial to Bielsa’s system at Leeds is turning 36 next April. He certainly has the quality for now – having racked up 9 goals and 9 assists for the Whites this season after only 27 league starts – that isn’t in doubt. However, Leeds will need to look into a player to whom Hernández can pass on the baton when the time is right.Embed from Getty Images
Pablo Hernández initially joined Leeds United on loan from Al-Arabi SC in August 2016. His loan ended in January 2017, when Leeds then signed him on a free transfer. He started 32 games in the Championship that season, racking up 6 goals and 8 assists.
However, when Marcelo Bielsa came to Leeds in 2018, nobody could have been prepared for the rejuvenation he instigated in Pablo. Since day one under Bielsa, Hernández has played as the enganche in Bielsa’s famed 3-3-1-3 formation. An attacking playmaker. In the two seasons that Bielsa has been in Leeds, Hernández has scored a total of 21 goals and provided a further 21.
His vision and passing accuracy are astounding for a Championship player. In the 2019/20 season, he has had a 77% pass accuracy, an average of 40.8 per game.
He is hailed a hero by the Leeds United fan base, which begs the question. Who could replace Pablo Hernandez in this role as he starts to take a back seat?
TYLER ROBERTSEmbed from Getty Images
Tyler Roberts has been a fantastic utility attacking option at Leeds United in the past two seasons. Injury has prevented him from really cementing himself into the starting XI at Leeds since he joined in January 2018. And incidentally, it was injury to Pablo Hernández that has led to him starting all 8 of Leeds’ games since the Championship restart.
On the face of it, his game is different from Pablo’s in the sense that Roberts is also a capable Number 9. Hernández can often be found coming deep for the ball and attempting to play clinical long/through passes. When Roberts plays in the Number 10 role, you tend to see Mateusz Klich dropping deeper and Roberts trying to make clever runs in behind.
Roberts is already familiar with Bielsa’s style of play and is already very well integrated into the first team. However, you can’t help but think he will need to change his game significantly if he is to take the enganche spot in Bielsa’s team.
EMILIANO BUENDIAEmbed from Getty Images
Naturally, one of the first place newly-promoted teams are going to look for transfers is the cream of the relegated teams. One player Leeds have already made an enquiry about is 23-year-old attacking playmaker Emiliano Buendía of Norwich City.
Extremely skilled when it comes to ball control, playmaking and high pressing (all of which are crucial strengths of a Bielsa Number 10), Buendía has racked up 7 assists in the premier league from 28 league starts. These aren’t numbers that appear impressive right off the bat, but he has consistently shown glimmers of creativity. It’s also important to remember that Norwich failed to make any crucial signings in their attack, so his numbers in terms of assists are bound to be a little less impressive.
Buendia has had a pass accuracy of 80% in the 2019/20 Premier League season, with a 71% pass accuracy in the opposition’s half. These stats are not far off those of Pablo Hernández.
According to the Daily Mail, Leeds must pay £25 million for the midfielder.
Given the fact that Bielsa is essentially a cult hero in his home country, this could further persuade the Argentine playmaker to make the move to Yorkshire.
THIAGO ALMADAEmbed from Getty Images
Yet another Argentine playmaker to be linked with a move to Leeds, Thiago Almada currently plays for Vélez Sarsfield.
He has even expressed an interest in working under Marcelo Bielsa.
“I would like Bielsa to coach me,” Almada told TyC Sports. “My friends sent me something about Bielsa, but I am calm. Whether it happens or not, we have to see. I don’t watch much soccer, but I saw some Leeds highlights and I saw something similar to what we did in Velez with Heinze.”
Again, he does possess all the qualities of a Bielsa enganche. With an 82% pass accuracy in the 2019/20 season, he beats Buendía marginally. Although, it is worth remembering that Buendía has been in the Premier League this season, as opposed to the Argentinian League.
He has 4 goals from 10 starts in the league and has created 6 big chances. His long ball accuracy in the 2019/20 season stands at an impressive 86%, so you can’t help but think he would be perfectly suited to dropping deep like Hernández. He is only 19 years old, meaning he has plenty of time ahead of him.
In short, there are a few options for Hernández’s heir, but given Tyler Roberts’ importance as a squad attacker Leeds really do need to be looking into a new signing for this purpose.
Elland Road Leeds.jpg: Boxingfan1995 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)