For years the left-back position has been problematic for Milan but in Theo Hernandez, we may well have found a long-term solution.
From the likes of Kevin Constant to Didac Vila, we’ve seen our fair share of flops, short-term solutions and ultimately underwhelming individuals try to fill that role but it has been a constant area of change over the years following on from more established and talented individuals.
Ricardo Rodriguez was signed in 2017 and although he brought experience and quality to the table, there was always something missing from his limited performances while there was gradually increased scrutiny and question marks over whether or not he was the ideal solution.
In Hernandez, Milan have potentially found what they’ve long been looking for, but while only time will reveal whether or not that’s the case, the early signs are certainly promising.
As noted by La Gazzetta dello Sport, Paolo Maldini was seemingly the first to talk with the 22-year-old over the summer in a meeting in Ibiza, and soon after an agreement was struck with Real Madrid as he was signed in a deal worth €20m, as per Goal.com.
Promising early signs
It became apparent almost immediately that Milan were on to a good thing with Hernandez as he stood out in our pre-season clash with Bayern Munich.
Unfortunately for all concerned, his non-competitive debut was cut short due to injury, and that ankle knock would be a real blow as it disrupted his preparation for the start of the new season and sidelined him for the beginning of the campaign.
However, since coming on against Inter, he hasn’t looked back as he’s now made four consecutive starts even despite the change in Coach, while he’s bagged a goal and an assist in that time and has generally impressed defensively too.
⚽ From the tightest of angles, Theo Hernandez brings Milan level!
🔴⚫ The double substitution from Giampaolo at half time pays off instantly pic.twitter.com/Qg3JLQsThA
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) October 5, 2019
It’s far too early to get carried away and suggest that Hernandez is the left-back we’ve been crying out for as consistency is going to be the biggest challenge for him, but ultimately the early signs are so promising that it’s hard not to believe that we’ve got a top, top player in front of us.
Based on what we saw against Lecce at the weekend, he is going to feature heavily not only in Pioli’s preferred XI, but also as a genuine attacking threat with the system adapted to give him freedom to get forward and cause problems.
With his technical quality, pace, directness and urgency on the ball, Hernandez is starting to prove to be a nightmare for opposition right-backs and right-sided midfielders trying to track back, as he is a bundle of energy down our left flank with no fear it seems in taking people on.
That is essentially what is so refreshing about him is that there is direction and intensity going forward and a player who is always switched on when forced to go backwards. That balance is not something Rodriguez was able to find, thus leading to frustrating performances where he arguably didn’t do enough.
Big test comes now for Hernandez
Despite all those positives, the real big test is coming up for Hernandez. The French ace is going to come up against better players, better systems and generally sides aware of the threat that he poses and will in turn adjust to try and limit his influence.
It will be down to him, and the coaching staff, to formulate a plan to ensure that he remains hugely effective and influential in our good play and continues to offer a real attacking threat down the left.
Perhaps with Davide Calabria returning from suspension against Roma this weekend, Milan could find a better balance down the flanks, assuming he can of course avoid being sent off for a week. In turn, Pioli could switch into a three-man backline when we’re in possession to give Hernandez license to bomb forward.
If that’s the case, that will only further reinforce the point that Pioli is going to rely heavily on the talented ace moving forward, having already switched Franck Kessie’s position to provide defensive coverage when necessary.
Hernandez ultimately has all the pieces in place to flourish and be a pivotal figure for Milan, now it’s down to him to show consistency against the likes of Roma, Lazio, Juventus and Napoli in the coming weeks to prove that he can go up against the best and still cause them problems.