Liverpool sit third in the Premier League table following on from their 2-1 win over Stoke City at the weekend. There's just six games left to play and the Reds are in a pole position to hit their target for the season and qualify for the Champions League.
Their form has tailed off since the turn of the year and the win at the Bet365 Stadium was their first away from home in 2017. However, Jürgen Klopp and his team are doing enough to stay ahead of their rivals – points on the board trump games in hand. It's an impressive feat in itself. But it's even more admirable given they've played their entire campaign with a 31-year-old centre-midfielder at left-back.
It's a problem area and the former Borussia Dortmund manager has used utility man James Milner as to mask the obvious crack in the foundations of the defence.
The Merseyside club have been linked with a number of left-backs over the past 12 months. Jonas Hector, Ryan Sessegnon and Sead Kolašinac have all been mentioned as potential arrivals. But reports in Spain recently suggest Atletico Madrid's Theo Hernández tops Liverpool's list of summer transfer targets.
Cadena SER claim the Reds will offer the 19-year-old Frenchman five times his current salary to secure his services ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Hre reportedly earns around £8,000-per-week on his current deal which expires in 2021.
Reports suggest that Hernández has a €24million release clause in his contract and it’s unlikely Atleti would entertain offers below that.
Is Hernández worth the fuss?
The Atletico Madrid player is on loan at Alaves this season and has put in a series of stunning performances to catch the eye of some of Europe’s elite. Standing out from the crowd is no easy feat given Alaves are the definition of a mid-table side. They sit 11th in the table on 40 points after 31 matches.
He's played left-back in a 4-2-3-1 system for the majority of the season which isn't too dissimilar to how Liverpool have lined up with Adam Lallana the link between midfield and attack.
He's not playing alongside some of the best in the league, he's having to graft to get noticed.
Hernández is not your everyday modern full-back. He's not diminutive and he doesn't sacrifice his defensive duties to aid the attack. The France Under-20 star has managed to find a good balance which all top managers now crave for from their defensive players.
He has all the tools to be moulded into the template for which all future full-backs will be measured against.
Full-backs in the Liverpool system are like no other. They're almost wide midfielders, tasked with keeping the width which allows the ‘outside' attackers to influence the game in central areas.
The Reds pay a possession-based game and as they look to create openings by moving the ball from side-to-side. That style sees the full-backs heavily involved in offensive play. It means any potential arrival has to be comfortable on the ball, progressive in their play and competent in wide areas even when isolated.
As you can see in the graphic above, Milner attempts almost 60 passes per 90 minutes – 30 more than Hernández. Their pass completion rate is similar but how would the Atleti man cope with seeing an increase of the ball? That's one factor to consider.
Milner makes more tackles than the youngster but a defender making more tackles shows poor positional sense. The fact Hernández comes out on top in terms of interceptions shows his reading of the game is better than the former Manchester City midfielders.
READ MORE: KLOPP GETS IT RIGHT AGAINST STOKE CITY AS LIVERPOOL WIN ALL THREE POINTS
The most interesting stats though are the dribbling ones; dribbles against and dribbles completed.
One common criticism levelled at Milner is opposing players get past him too easily and the stats, when compared with Hernández, back that up. The opposition beat Milner on average 0.6 more times than they do the Frenchman. Over the entirety of the season that's 22 more times.
The difference between the two is even greater when looking at completed dribbles. Klopp's teams need players who are aggressors. Those who have the ability to take players out of the game with incisive passes or positive runs. Hernández falls into the latter and completes 2.2 dribbles per 90 minutes compared to the 0.8 Milner completes.
In the two pictures below we see the full-back, circled in red, pick the ball up in his own half before driving into the space ahead of him.
The second picture shows Hernández in the opposition's penalty area about to play a dangerous ball across the face of the six-yard line.
He's managed to bypass the midfield as well as beat men on the outside to work an opening which sees Alaves have two-v-two in the penalty area. It's a rarity to see a Liverpool full-back show such positivity on the ball.
The midfielder-cum-defender is hindered by the fact he's not naturally left footed and often has to cut inside instead of beating his man on the outside. The Alaves loanee wouldn't have that problem and it opens up a whole other dimension to the Liverpool attack. With him looking to overlap it would free up space centrally for Philippe Coutinho.
Standing at 6ft 1ins he can handle himself physically too. However, what's surprising is he wins 0.7 aerial duels compared to Milner's 1.3. It's something he'll definitely need to improve upon if he's to moved to Anfield.
Do Liverpool have a chance?
Going to war with Real Madrid and Barcelona isn’t the smartest of ideas. Both sides have an unlimited supply of financial backing, they’re Champions League regulars and they’re two of the most prestigious clubs in the world.
— Messi Minutes (@MessiMinutes) April 4, 2017
It would take something special to convince a player to pick you over not just one but both of these footballing juggernauts.
Liverpool have that something special.
Use the stepping stone card to convince him to join. Impress on Merseyside and you'll get a move to Barcelona or Madrid in the future.
The Reds have the money and the platform as well as a manager who developed Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer into two of Europe's best full-backs during his time at Dortmund.
The mix of Klopp, guaranteed playing minutes and, if all goes to plan for the remainder of the season, Anfield hosting Champions League football next season, could well be the perfect storm to convince the highly sought after left-back that Liverpool is the best place for him to develop.