New era for Pablo Hernandez but Leeds United candidates are queueing up in battle for No 10
Pablo Hernandez was used sparsely upon Leeds United’s Premier League return.
Having proved inspirational in getting them there, Hernandez made just 16 outings for Leeds in the country’s top flight for a total of 417 minutes of top-tier football.
But the Spanish magician was still able to weigh in with two assists and offered a strong option for head coach Marcelo Bielsa, particularly in the No 10 role in which he best excelled.
The 36-year-old will now be looking to thrive for hometown club Castellon whom Hernandez part-owns and has now signed for following his Whites release.
But Leeds still have another five and a half weeks to firm up options for next season in the No 10 role, for which record signing Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts remain in pole position, backed up by Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich as youngsters Sam Greenwood, Joe Gelhardt and Sean McGurk bubble below the surface.
Although able to thrive on both flanks, Hernandez had been first-choice No 10 but the picture changed after the experienced Spaniard’s goals finally helped fire the Whites to promotion after a 16-year absence.
In came another Spanish forward as Leeds shelled out a club record fee of £27m to sign Rodrigo who was bought to sit on the bench although the ex-Valencia star found himself amongst the substitutes for United’s first game back in the Premier League at Liverpool.
As Leeds lined up at Anfield last September, Hernandez was fielded as United’s No 10 behind striker Patrick Bamford.
But, by the end of the season, the picture had changed with both Roberts and Rodrigo ending the campaign with a bang and a fit-again Rodrigo finishing the campaign as United’s No 10, apart from the season finale at home to West Brom in which Rodrigo was pushed up front as Hernandez made one last start.
Therein lies a key factor in assessing the No 10 options as the versatile Rodrigo is also one of United’s key options for the centre-forward role along with Roberts.
Patrick Bamford is the clear first choice in the position following a superb campaign that featured 17 goals, seven assists and strong calls for the Whites No 9 to be included in England’s squad for the Euros. But Bamford clearly needs back-up, support and competition.
As things stand, Roberts would probably be the next in line due to the fact that Rodrigo appears first-choice No 10, although three talented youngsters from United’s Academy set-up could be set to play much more prominent roles for the first team and particularly 19-year-old pair Gelhardt and Greenwood.
The positional situation with the duo is not too dissimilar to the one with Bamford and Rodrigo aside from the fact that Bamford is not a No 10
But Gelhardt and Greenwood have both been deployed as ‘9s’ and ‘10s’ for the Under-23s although Bielsa appears to see Gelhardt as a striker and Greenwood as an attacking midfielder though with the ability to switch.
Eighteen-year-old Sean McGurk, signed from Wigan Athletic this summer, is another attacking midfielder who will likely have plenty of different strings to his bow.
As far as the No 10 role is concerned, all of United’s wingers would also be potential options if required although Raphinha, Jack Harrison, Helder Costa and Ian Poveda appear best suited out wide.
In any case, Leeds hope to sign another central midfielder this summer and it remains to be seen how that impacts United’s options.
And the picture will change again somewhat if and when United sign 18-year-old centre midfielder Lewis Bate from Chelsea.
The options at each position within United’s squad almost dovetail into those available at another with centre-backs Robin Koch and Pascal Struijk the current back-ups to England international star Kalvin Phillips in the CDM role.
Jamie Shackleton and Adam Forshaw, if and when fit, can also be added to the mix, and to the options at No 8 for which Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich are United’s leading lights and both can also play farther forward making them two more options at No 10. Is there anywhere that Dallas can’t play?
It means that, even after the departure of Hernandez, Leeds are well-stocked for options in the No 10 role given a fully fit squad and with competition rife.
At present, it starts with Rodrigo or Roberts.
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Thank you Laura Collins