Leeds United missed the influence of Pablo Hernandez on Boxing Day as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Preston North End at Elland Road.
The little Spaniard hasn’t been at his best this season but there was a clear lack of creativity in Leeds’ attack on Thursday, particularly in the first half.
Stuart Dallas moved into central midfield in Hernandez’s absence and scored the equalising goal in the 89th minute.
But while Dallas made a telling contribution it’s fair to say he is far from a natural replacement for Hernandez.
The topic of the 34-year-old’s absence naturally came to light in Phil Hay’s post-match Q&A on The Athletic, and this is what he had to say on the subject.
“The problem Leeds have is that Hernandez is a mile out on his own when it comes to creating chances and dictating play. He hasn’t actually been that impressive this season but there’s no substitute for him when he’s injured. Saiz is the closest thing Bielsa’s had.”
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It’s intriguing that Hay has name-checked Saiz as the closest thing Bielsa has had to a genuine alternative to Hernandez.
Tyler Roberts, during the 2018/19 campaign in particular, has looked assured in a number ten role when called upon while Mateusz Klich also boasts some playmaking qualities.
Yet neither player come close to Hernandez in terms of possessing the natural ability to find space and pick the lock with incisive through balls. Saiz was of a similar ilk to his compatriot but even he couldn’t match his cutting-edge creativity.
As Hay says, Hernandez is a mile ahead of his teammates and Victor Orta would be wise to scout the market for an able replacement in 2020.
At 34 Hernandez is a veteran who is rapidly running out of time at the top level, and finding a player to step into his shoes long-term should represent something of a priority for the club’s decision makers.