Diego Simeone used to be famous with the use of midfielders who are industrious, tough-looking, aggressive warriors – the likes of Mario Suarez and Arda Turan. With the recently ageing defence, El Cholo tried to turn his team into a more possession-based one, with the introduction of technical players with great passing, such as Rodri and Thomas Lemar.
In former Porto’s star player Hector Herrera, Atleti’s boss now has a player with great passing range, as well as fierce fighting spirit. Such a quality player for free – quite a bargain. In this scout report, we will use tactical analysis to detail the key attributes of Hector Herrera, and how he will fit into Diego Simeone’s system.
He started his senior career rather late at the age of 21. After 2 seasons at Pachuca, he moved to FC Porto in 2013. He has been a key player at Porto since the 2014/15 season, having made more than 20 appearances in all league campaigns during that period. He moved to Atletico Madrid in July 2019 on a free transfer.
Since his national team debut in 2012, Herrera has won 70 caps for Mexico, scoring 5 goals.
According to Onefootball, Hector Herrera was the player who covered the most distance (93.9 km) after the 2018/19 Champions League round of 16. That’s a testament to his incredible work-rate and stamina.
Here is the average heatmap of Herrera last season. It would be safe to say that he was heavily involved … everywhere on the pitch, but mostly the middle third. That’s the extreme version of a high-octane box-to-box player’s heatmap.
Here are Herrera’s overall stats for last season. As a box-to-box midfielder, Herrera is expected to engage in a lot of duels. He won 49.4% of his 23.13 duels per match and won 43.9% of 4.49 aerial duels per match.
Herrera moves to the flanks quite often. Last season, he completed 1.53 crosses per match. On the wings, he often dribbles and swings one foot to do the fake cross. He will then chop the ball back and cross with his other foot. He is a good dribbler and is good with both feet. This makes it difficult for the opponents to stop him from getting dangerous crosses in.
In the following example, he turned to his right foot, then to his left, then to his right again and get a cross in.
His most notable style of passing is a long ball to the wings. He has the vision to recognize a free player on the wing and more often than not gets the ball to him. He attempts 5 long balls/match with 63% accuracy. He can switch flanks with the left foot well, as demonstrated below.
He is an all-rounded passer, also capable of short passes. His overall passing accuracy is 87.2%. He is also an incisive passer with 0.9 key passes per game. He can make perfectly weighted through ball.
Below is an example of his football intelligence. His body positioning implied the passing direction demonstrated by the dashed arrow. However, he then broke the opponent’s two lines of defence with a pass demonstrated by the normal arrow. The circled player was tricked by Herrera’s body positioning and could not react to the actual pass.
Here, he found Chicharito with a defence-splitting pass.
Another strong type of pass he often makes is the lobbed through ball. It can be a ball to the flanks, or more notably, a ball over the opponent’s defence. Here, he found the circled player with a delicate lobbed pass.
Here, the opponent is getting close to the ball (the red-filled circle). Herrera quickly dragged the ball and turned his body facing the goal. He immediately found his teammate with a through ball over the top, creating a one on one. He showed his vision and quick thinking – these are the traits that make him a great asset in attacking transition.
He can play quick one-twos as well. Here, he received the pass (black arrow below) and immediately flick the ball through two opponents, onto the path of his surging teammate.
He is a player with great teammate understanding & awareness. Here, he attracted two opposition players, recognized his teammate’s movement and found him with a backheel pass, though he didn’t see his teammate during the whole process.
He has good body balance and agile feet, which makes it difficult to dispossess him while he’s dribbling. He completes 1.68 dribbles per match. Herrera also possesses quality long-range shots apart from long-range passes – he is a reliable set-piece taker.
He has a great first touch as well. Here, after a teammate’s strong clearance, the ball was flying down from a height of 10 meters, and Herrera was marked tightly by a Swedish player. However, his was touch was perfect. After a second touch to get away from the opponent, he quickly turned his head up to find his teammate and start a fast attack for Mexico.
Out of possession
Herrera is strong and has decent speed to track back when possession’s lost. In these situations, he is always willing to quickly chase the opponent and coordinate with his teammates to get the ball back as quickly as possible. He is also a good reader of opponents’ passing intentions, with 4.07 interceptions per game.
Herrera avoids sliding tackles if possible, aiming to position his body effectively to scan the field and make quick counterattacking passes. He can often control the ball after tackling well.
Like Kante, Herrera loves to attack the ball carrier from his blindside. The ball carrier is often surprised, and Herrera could then took the ball with a quality tackle. Here, Boateng definitely didn’t expect a tackle from behind. That was some sneaky movement by Herrera.
He has the defensive awareness to track late runners into the box. In the below example, he expected Belgium’s right-back to make an underlapping run behind his teammate and was, therefore, able to provide effective cover.
What will Herrera add to Atletico’s system?
Hector Herrera was brought into the team alongside the departure of Rodri, but he is by no means a natural replacement to the Spaniard. Simeone already brought Marcos Llorente, a defensive midfielder with great playmaking ability to fill that role. Herrera will have more freedom to help the attack, where he can be a real threat. He scored six goals in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season.
We already mentioned that he has incredible work-rate and stamina, which makes him a perfect fit for Simeone’s tactics. His passing in attacking transitions makes him stand out from other Atleti midfielders. It will be a great addition to a side that often resorts to counter-attacking football in big matches. Moreover, Simeone’s side often has a hard time breaking down small teams’ low blocks, partly due to their narrow midfield shape while attacking. Herrera’s quick and incisive through balls can provide a solution. He can also stretch the opposition defence with tireless movements to the wings.
His quality distributions to the flanks should also be noted. We can imagine Atleti overloading the left side of the field. Herrera then finds Trippier in acres of space. Trippier is a good crosser, and Morata will benefit from his cross.
With his versatile qualities, Herrera can play in any position in midfield, though he is a box-to-box midfielder most of the time. He is expected to feature as part of the double pivot in a 4-4-2, or a central midfielder in a 4-3-1-2, playing in front of Llorente and alongside Koke. Simeone can use a 4-3-1-2 with four nominal central midfielders, with Saul totally capable of playing as a high-octane attacking midfielder.
This analysis has illustrated Hector Herrera’s all-round qualities and how he may be the missing piece Simeone desperately needs to take his team to the next level. Much will be demand from Herrera as he moves from the Portuguese Primeira Liga to a top league like La Liga. However, he is an experienced warrior who can rise to the challenges. There is much to come from him in the next season.
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