Arjen Robben has already announced that it will be his last season in Munich, Rafinha followed suit and announced the same. Besides Arjen Robben, there are also enough question marks around his eternal congenial partner Franck Ribéry. Whether the Frenchman’s contract will be extended again remains to be seen. In addition to the two wing players and Rafinha, there are many other candidates on the line. First and foremost Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng and Javi Martínez. Accordingly, the rumours of another central defender being signed are not really surprising. It has been speculated for weeks whether Lucas Hernández will move from Atlético Madrid to Munich. We would like to introduce the Frenchman to you.
But before we look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 2018 World Cup winner, we should define the requirements for a central defender in Bavaria.
Defender at Bayern – a difficult task
Over the last few years, the Bayern game has always been characterized by high ball possession, game control and dominant football. Since Louis van Gaal implemented his ideas in Munich, the central defenders have to be strong with the ball. In addition, van Gaal, like his successors Heynckes, Guardiola and Ancelotti, pushed the defence close to the halfway line during the possession phase. Guardiola even further forward.
Due to a high defensive line, there are more passing options in the opposing half and the ball can be moved faster. Many critics argue that a high defensive line is very easy to counter. This criticism may be correct in parts, but ignores important advantages of high-standing central defenders. Because the defenders are at the halfway line, the distances are smaller at the transition moment. Should the opponent free themselves from the counter-pressing, the central defenders or one of the sixes can re-set immediately. Often a counter can be slowed down or prevented.
Of course there is a danger that a pass will be played behind the defence. For this reason, the central defenders must not only have a good start, but also a good basic speed. Furthermore, intelligent anticipation is essential in order to nip many dangers in the bud. In addition, the Bayern central defenders often get into 1vs1 duels, at this point I would just like to remind you of the return match 2017 in Madrid. Boateng and Hummels showed probably one of the best individual defense performances at that time.
Let’s summarize briefly. Since Niko Kovač has only made minor adjustments, the requirement profile for a central defender is still quite similar. On the one hand, it is important that the central defender is strong with the ball. Exact passes into midfield are especially important under Kovač. Furthermore it is necessary that the defender is fast, strong in duels and intelligent. If Lucas Hernández would be able to do all that, I’ll analyse in the next section.
Lucas Hernández, full-back or centre-back
The Frenchman, whose father has Spanish roots, is a native of Atlético. He made his debut for the professional team in the 2014/15 season and has continued to develop ever since. Shortly before the 2018 World Cup, he also made his debut for the French national team after playing a convincing season for Atlético. He benefits from his flexibility. The 1.83m tall defender can be used as a centre-back but also as left-back. In the end, this flexibility helped him to become a regular left-back in the national team.
Especially his athletic abilities stand out. Lucas is incredibly fast and can still intercept many strikers who got behind the last line of his team. His speed would certainly be one of the decisive factors for a transfer to Munich. The reason for this is the problems that Hummels and Boateng reveal against faster opponents. But the Frenchman is not only fast. He also brings a high degree of understanding of the game. You can see him tackling heroically again and again, but his timing is very good. Rarely Lucas fouls his opponent, not without reason he received only seven yellow cards in 105 games for Atlético.
Under the management of Diego Simeone, Lucas has continued to develop. Like so many Atlético players, he has a good sense of space and the situation. He is seldom caught on the wrong foot or moves too quickly out of his position. Compared to many Bundesliga defenders, Lucas rarely overlooks an opponent because he is not too fixated on the ball. On the contrary, if you keep an eye on the Frenchman, you will notice that he is constantly looking around to gather as much information as possible and make the best decision. Especially as a central defender, the position he currently plays regularly at Atlético, this quality is important. Regularly looking around guarantees the correct positioning and successful defence of opponents moving in his back towards the goal.
In addition, Lucas is a very aggressive, fierce player in the duel. With only 0.8 fouls per 90 minutes he manages to lead many of his duels fairly and has a high success rate. Smaller problems can be discovered when moving out. Although his timing is usually good, when he pushes far out of the position, but you could occasionally observe how he was still one step too slow when it came to prevent the opponent from turning with the ball. All in all, these are small details that eventually will be corrected. Against the ball you can otherwise describe him as a very strong player. Lucas Hernández has all the qualities that a defender at FC Bayern needs and could be a direct reinforcement with his speed.
The game with the ball
The defensive qualities must be evident to be a good central defender. But especially in a team like Bayern Munich, which has so much ball possession, the playful component also plays an important role.
As central defender, Lucas Hernández has made a very calm impression so far. In the Atlético Madrid game, the centre backs have no leading role in the build-up game. Many of his passes are safe passes to the next man. But Lucas has already shown that his low passes, which are crossing the opposing line, are played very precisely. The Frenchman can certainly improve in this area. However, he has the potential to improve Bayern’s build-up game.
In addition to his role as central defender, Lucas can also play as a full-back. In the offensive he is a danger not to be underestimated for every opponent. His ball control is excellent and the decision making is good. Due to his fast attacks he already caused a lot of danger for the national team.
In France, he was often set up after switching sides. He only pushed forward a little later, but was then able to attack the opponent’s defensive chain with speed. Especially his crosses turned out to be a valuable weapon against deep opponents. The Frenchman knows how to use the different cross in his repertoire perfectly, which shows high intelligence. Bayern could also make good use of these abilities. The question remains: What position is Lucas Hernández supposed to occupy?
How could Niko Kovač use him?
The obvious answer is that Lucas would represent another alternative for the central defender position. Boateng and also Mats Hummels have been struggling for quite some time. Lucas could be the needed younger replacement for the two World Cup winners. Together with Niklas Süle he would make a good centre-back duo. Both have the athletic skills to keep fast attackers in check and to steer Bayern’s build-up game. In addition, Lucas is left-footed and could therefore perfectly fill the position as left central defender.
He would probably also appear as a left full-back from time to time. After the departure of Juan Bernat there is no trained left defender here beside David Alaba. However, the Austrian is rather injury prone. A backup could give Alaba the necessary breaks.
The third possibility is probably the most interesting one. Already at Eintracht Niko Kovač opted for a defensive line with three or five players, at Bayern it has not been used yet. Before the season Kovac spoke about flexibility, also in the tactical formation. We have seen little of it so far. Kovač would have the possibility with Lucas to start with three central defenders. The Frenchman could then either be the left defender or play on the left side instead of David Alaba. Since the Austrian is currently still considered to be stronger in terms of play and his dynamism on the ball poses challenges to his opponent’s pressing, he could also be the left defender.
Bayern would now for the first time open the treasure box wide for Lucas Hernández. In times of ever higher transfer fees, this is only a matter of time. With the Frenchman, Bayern would gain a highly talented defender who would have all the necessary skills to become one of the best defenders in the world. The young defender could play a leading role in the future of the club and the upheaval would continue. It remains to be hoped that Lucas will, not like other Atlético players, be able to perform at world-class level outside Simeone’s system. However, since he has also performed well with the French national team, this concern is probably unfounded. If he confirms his impressions and continues to develop, any FC Bayern fan could look forward to Lucas.