Pablo Hernandez is Leeds United’s most creative and dynamic player. I was thrilled when it was announced we had signed Pablo. We all saw the excellence he possessed from his time at Swansea City; he was that little extra class and quality that could make all the difference to a team in the Championship.
Watching him with the ball is poetry in motion and, at Elland Road, everything positive in an attacking sense feeds through Hernandez and he dictates play in the number 10 role (yes, I am aware he wears the number 19 shirt).
The problem arises when the lads travel away from home.
Teams often set up differently dependent on whether they are playing at home or away. Some teams prefer to adopt a counter-attacking approach when away from home, whilst at home the same team can command and control the game with sustained possession and pressure.
If the difference is the style at home vs. the style when away, you would then logically think that this changes the type of players you deploy in certain positions. Usually, you will find a team’s most creative and dynamic players stay within the team based on the quality they possess even though the system and fixture impedes the influence of that player, but sometimes, that’s not the case.
Hernandez’s influence on the game seems to diminish considerably on the road, and over the last few weeks this hindrance has seen us drop a considerable number of points away from home. I am a firm believer in the theory that the best players can win football matches wherever they play, but it is the best teams who ultimately win promotions and trophies.
Leeds are currently a better-than-decent side in the division, so when Leeds arrive at certain Championship grounds, teams are prepared and set their teams out to obstruct the free-flowing football we have all seen this season under Gary Monk.
Teams are aware we have one of the league’s top scorers in Chris Wood leading the line. They are also aware of the fact that we consistently play a 4-2-3-1 formation, which means Chris Wood is in position to become isolated up front should the defence do their job well on the attacking midfielders. In recent weeks, and especially against Ipswich, this has occurred.
That means that the players in the supporting roles just behind Wood need to change their manner of support from a simple creative sense to an attacking one as well. Hernandez seems to struggle to convert himself from a creative midfielder to an attacking one in away fixtures. He struggles with the lack of freedom and control that he has become accustomed to at Elland Road where defences might bunker back and not work to isolate the one lone striker.
See, in home games, Leeds often have the impetus and can move the ball more freely as teams stay in a well-organised defensive shape and invite the pressure. This in turn gives Hernandez the chance to show his football wizardry. But in away games, Hernandez has not been able to adapt to a different approach from his opponents: when their midfielders attack instead of defend, their defenders stick to Chris Wood and he has not shown the attacking prowess to take advantage.
Especially on the road, we need players who can get into the box and give Wood space in the attacking areas. Hernandez rarely, if ever, makes attacking runs into the box - he is happy just outside the 18 yards trying to play the ball through. This often comes to nothing because of how isolated Wood is.
I usually don’t take stats as a good indicator from a player’s performance, but the difference in effectiveness of Pablo’s home and away can be seen by his average performance rating.
In the last 5 home games, Hernandez has averaged a phenomenal 8.15/10.
But in away fixtures, his average drops to 6.63/10, a massive difference in form.
This highlights the need for a change in the central attacking midfield role in away games. We need a player with the ability to drive beyond Chris Wood and score goals when the big Kiwi is being marked out of the game.
In my opinion, that man is Kemar Roofe.
Roofe has shown his ability to fulfill the attacking midfielder’s duty in an away setting. He can also play as a striker so that can offer the chance to play a more 4-4-2 formation if the 4-2-3-1 is struggling to be effective.
Hernandez should 100% be starting every home game, and his skill is a huge reason we’re sitting where we are in the table. Without his creative flair, our solid home form would not exist.
But as Jack Dudley said in yesterday’s Three Points recap: ‘One week he's the real deal and unplayable, the next he’s incredibly ineffective.’
With other options available, give the 31-year-old a break on the road, let the others show what they have in attack. We’ll need him fresh at Elland Road, where he has been unstoppable, but there’s no harm in trying some other options away from home, and the stats say Monk couldn’t do much worse. MOT.