Last summer, Watford sold Luis Javier Suarez and Pervis Estupinan for a combined sum of over £20 million. Both players came to Europe via a Pozzo-owned club, found their way to Watford, but did not play any competitive minutes for the Club. The Hornets were able to make a tremendous profit on the two South Americans by loaning them out to increase their transfer value. Cucho Hernandez once appeared to be on the same path as Suarez and Estupinan. However, he now is getting the chance to shine at Vicarage Road, a gamble that has a solid chance at hitting the jackpot.
Cucho Hernandez Has Already Proven Himself Abroad
The Colombian turned 22 in April. Despite his young age, he has still already played considerable minutes across three La Liga campaigns. His top-flight campaigns came after a 16-goal, six-assist Spanish second-tier 2017/18 campaign with SD Huesca.
As he played a pivotal role in their promotion and Watford did not have any reason to recall him at the time, SD Huesca were able to keep hold of Cucho for the second year of the two-year loan. In 34 appearances, Cucho scored four goals and provided three assists. His goals came against Barcelona, Villareal, Valencia, and Real Madrid. He underperformed his Expected Goals (Xg) statistic by 8.18 goals. The statistic may appear worrisome at face value, though he was still a teenager in his inaugural major top-flight season. He can also take some credit for his high Xg statistic by having commendable positional awareness to be in the right spots in the first place.
The following season was much better for Cucho, who earned himself another La Liga loan, this time to RCD Mallorca. He missed the first 15 matches of the season with an injury, but in 17 starts, he scored five goals, overperforming his Xg statistic by 0.61. His impressive performances earned him yet another La Liga loan for the 2020/21 campaign, this time to a more noteworthy side.
Unfortunately for Cucho, his loan to Getafe was also blemished by injuries. Nonetheless, in 18 starting appearances, he scored twice and contributed three assists. His performances when fit were good enough for Getafe to reportedly want to keep tabs on whether extending his loan for another season was an option.
Now, Cucho is a part of Watford’s first-team preseason, scoring a goal in a friendly against Colchester United. He is destined to play a role in Watford’s Premier League return as the hierarchy feels the time is right for Cucho to finally get a chance at Vicarage Road.
Ideal Option Who Will Only Continue to Improve
How well Cucho will do in his inaugural Premier League season is not the easiest of predictions. Considering the number of other attacking options on the Hornets’ books, there is no shortage of competition for the starting positions. With the likes of Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King arriving, the Watford hierarchy are making sure that if one player is out of form, there are multiple solid players ready to fill in. Cucho will want frequent starting minutes, as he received in La Liga, though that is not a guarantee. Regardless, he is destined to play a considerable number of minutes and has what it takes to earn a starting spot in multiple positions.
Even though Cucho has played the majority of his career as a centre-forward, he has also found success on the wings. In 17 career matches as a winger, he has scored six goals and provided four assists. With the Hornets’ left-wing starting role up for grabs and Ismaila Sarr set to miss time in January due to AFCON participation, Cucho has ample chances to claim minutes on the wings. He has already proven himself as capable of playing in wide positions.
If deployed centrally, he will provide a type of forward Watford desperately need. The Hornets will likely be on the back foot more often than not in the upcoming season, meaning they will need even their attackers to help out in defense. Cucho has already had plenty of experience playing for relegation-fighting sides, meaning he knows the type of defensive play he will need to provide when on the pitch.
Even last season, the statistics show Cucho is talented when it comes to tracking back. Of all forwards in the major five leagues last season, he was above the 90th percentile for both pressures per 90 (minutes) and tackles per 90, including being in the 99th percentile for tackles in the middle third of the pitch with 0.92 tackles per 90. He was in the 89th percentile for blocks per 90.
Not only does Cucho guarantee an attacker who will bust his socks off to get back and defend, for he is also adept at spurring counterattacks. Considering the type of football Watford will need to play next season, including more counterattacks and less time on the ball in comparison to last season, such proclivities are needed throughout the starting eleven. He averaged 5.83 progressive carries per 90 last season, ranking in the 91st percentile of forwards. This shows his ability to drop in deep, defend, and carry the ball forward to shift from defensive phases to attacking phases. Cucho’s above-par pace means he will be able to provide support for Sarr when the Club’s record-signing is bursting forward.
Cucho for sure has lots to work on. His true in-game finishing abilities are still something of a question mark. With lots of competition, considerable starting minutes is not by any means a guarantee. But when played, Xisco Munoz will know he has an attacker who perfectly encourages counterattacks while still always tracking back to defend when other teams are on attacking onslaughts. Sometimes strikers can be “luxury players” who only play as if their sole purpose is to score. Cucho provides much more, in necessary ways, than just a goalscoring threat. And if King, for example, claims the starting centre-forward spot and someone else claims the starting left-wing role, Cucho will be the perfect super-substitute to steady the ship or provide a spark later on in matches. If Cucho’s finishing abilities continue to improve, he could eventually become a consistent name in the starting eleven and amongst Watford’s top scorers, either in this season or in campaigns to come.