Players don’t move between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid very often. When they do, it’s with good reason. When the latter signed Theo Hernández from their nearest and dearest in 2017, they thought he was worth upsetting the neighbours for.
Yet Hernández, younger brother of Atlético’s World Cup winner Lucas, made just 13 LaLiga appearances for Los Blancos in two years. Instead, he spent half his time as a Real player on loan at Real Sociedad.
After just two years at the Santiago Bernabéu, the ever-patient Real decided to cut their losses. Needing to raise capital to fund Zinedine Zidane’s overhaul of an ageing side, Hernández was sold to Milan for €20million.
The deal has proven a masterstroke for the Rossoneri who now possess the most-wanted left-back in Europe. They will surely turn a huge profit on the 22-year-old in the very near future as a result.
According to Marca, left-back could be a position of interest for a number of Europe’s top clubs this summer. Juventus will try to poach Marcelo from Real while Barcelona want competition for Jordi Alba. Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Manchester City are expected to address the position too. Hernández, unsurprisingly, tops plenty of clubs’ wishlists.
What immediately stands out about Hernández are his attacking instincts. While his older brother is the perfect representation of Diego Simeone’s muck-and-bullets prototype, Hernández Jnr. has flair and a willingness to get forward.
With five league goals – six in all competitions – only Robin Gosens (7) of Atalanta and Roma’s Aleksandar Kolarov (6) have more. Crucially, five of Kolarov’s strikes have come from set-pieces. Only one of Hernández’s is classed as a ‘set-piece’ goal but the strike, a stunning volley against Udinese (below), is from the second phase. It owes nothing to the initial delivery.
Hernández takes 2.78 touches in the opposition penalty area (per 90) – so it’s little surprise he’s a persistent threat. A prolific dribbler, Hernández attempts 3.92 take-ons per 90 and, of his Rossoneri team-mates, only midfielder Ismaël Bennacer (4) attempts more.
Quick and surprisingly robust for a full-back, there’s nothing particularly nuanced about Hernández’s style. He’s got the speed and physicality to simply bulldoze his way past opposing players. That said, he does have a penchant for the nutmeg, frequently nipping the ball through an opponent’s legs to leave them red-faced.
Once in full flight, Hernández is tough to stop. His powerful gallop means he can cover ground quickly, getting Milan up the field and into dangerous areas. We can see from his take-on map (above) the area he is most successful in is the middle third.
Always eager to join the attack, the inevitable question marks surround Hernández from a defensive point of view. No left-back in Serie A has won more defensive duels (per 90) than Hernández this season. But that doesn’t mean much beyond the fact he is involved defensively. That’s unsurprising given Milan‘s struggles this term.
A truer reflection, then, is in Hernández’s ‘true tackle win-rate’. This incorporates challenges lost and fouls conceded when attempting a tackle. The Athletic‘s Tom Worville writes: “…true tackle win-rate can help avoid this error by incorporating these two missing categories, with the equation of total tackles/(total tackles+challenges lost+fouls when attempting a tackle).”
With 16 challenges lost and 15 fouls from attempted tackles, Hernández comes out with a 55 per cent win rate.
So, how does that look next to his peers?
The aforementioned Gosens has a true tackle win rate of 51 per cent. Kolarov’s is 54 per cent. Neither can match Hernández, though.
That is where the Milan No.19 has the edge over many of his peers. Rambunctious and effective going forward, he doesn’t abandon his defensive duties either.
Real Madrid weren’t wrong in their assertion. Hernández is special. They were just too impatient to realise.