Spurs must shackle Lazio playmaker Hernanes to keep Europa hopes intact

As Tottenham travel to Rome for their crunch Europa League tie with Lazio, Michael Cox uses the Europa League Stats Zone – a FREE version of FourFourTwo's award-winning Opta-powered app, brought to you by Western Union – to outline the quality of the Italian side's Brazilian playmaker...

When football fans are debating Europe’s best playmakers, you rarely hear mention of Lazio’s Brazilian midfielder Hernanes.

But more gifted number tens have stuttered in recent years – Yoann Gourcuff has had a miserable couple of seasons, Wesley Sneijder hasn’t been on form since Jose Mourinho left Inter, Javier Pastore hasn’t quite fulfilled his early promise at PSG and Shinji Kagawa is yet to settle at Manchester United. Meanwhile, Hernanes is quietly and efficiently turning in excellent performances for Lazio.

The Brazilian has slipped under the radar. It’s easy to see why – Lazio haven’t challenged for the Scudetto in recent years, nor have they been a Champions League side. His eight Brazilian caps have been spread across four years – the most notable moment being a straight red card for a high tackle at the Stade de France last year – so he’s had little opportunity to impress on the highest stage.

Yet he’s been amongst the best performers in Serie A this season, and can play the role of orchestrator, creator or goalscorer, with 24 goals in 78 Serie A appearances. The only question is whether he’ll start tonight’s game against Tottenham. He was rested for Lazio’s previous Europa League fixture, against Panathinaikos, but with Miroslav Klose out injured, Vladimir Petkovic is likely to want his on-form Brazilian in the side.

A little like Chelsea’s Oscar, Hernanes isn’t a classic Brazilian number ten – he’s more disciplined and responsible without the ball, happy to fulfil his defensive duties. That was evident in Lazio’s opening Europa League game away at White Hart Lane, a relatively uninspiring 0-0 draw. Hernanes mucked in and helped out Lazio’s other midfielders, making three interceptions but also conceding three fouls.

Hernanes’ next Europa League outing, at home to Maribor, was a better example of his attacking ability. As the positions of his received passes shows, Hernanes doesn’t simply wait for the ball in the opposition third, he drifts into deeper positions near the halfway line to start Lazio attacks, then gets himself higher up the pitch to provide the final pass. He also tested the goalkeeper from long range, although he did have a penalty saved – he’s normally reliable from the spot.

Against Panathinaikos in Athens, his role changed. In away matches he tends to play a much more conservative role, and his passes are indicative of a cautious, defensive-minded strategy from Petkovic in order to ensure a draw – which is exactly the result Lazio picked up. Hernanes barely plays a pass into the final third, although he did showcase his ability to jink past opposition midfielders – more successful in deep positions than when close to the edge of the box.

He only created one chance in that match – and even that was hardly an incisive ball – while his shots were from difficult angles. As a player comfortable on either foot, he’s difficult to close down in those type of positions.

As a true all-round attacking midfielder, able to shoot, pass and dribble, Hernanes is a very difficult player to stop. Even keeping it tight between defence and midfield is no guarantee of success, as the Brazilian wanders into deeper positions, where he’s entirely comfortable.

Andre Villas-Boas’ trump card may well be Sandro – the last time Hernanes started a match for Brazil, the 2-1 win over Bosnia in February, Sandro was used just behind him in midfield. The two know each other well, and it would be an intriguing battle in the centre of the Stadio Olimpico pitch.

Stats Zone is a free-download app from FourFourTwo and Opta, updated LIVE in-play. The Europa League Stats Zone is brought to you in association with Western Union's PASS scheme, which turns every completed Europa League pass into a day's education for young people around the world.

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