Isak Hien: The progressive and imposing centre-back at Hellas Verona – scout report
While the season for Djurgarden in Sweden had already started, with plenty of league and UEFA Europa Conference League games played, Isak Hien‘s signing for Hellas Verona was made official. A giant step was taken in his career by the 23-year-old player who instantly adapted to the competition in a great way when he arrived at the club led firstly by Gabriele Cioffi, who would be replaced in December by Marco Zaffaroni.
Despite experiencing a rather shaky start at the Italian club, Hien has shown his great potential and quality in the league. He has matched the physical level of the competition and has added his technical abilities both on the ball and to defend in a more proactive way, which is closer to his style of play.
With all this poor form of Hellas Verona, some weaknesses have been more apparent than when he played in Allsvenskan, but his abilities and the positives within his game are bigger and more significant. That is why today we will carry out a tactical analysis in the form of a scout report to review the profile of the Swedish defender, within the tactics of Hellas Verona and different teams, including the national team where he is already a regular starter.
Profile and data
Isak Hien is a 6’3 ft tall defender, with a fairly strong mesomorph build in both his upper and lower body. He started his career at Vasalund of the Swedish second division where Djurgarden caught his talent immediately. 2022 was the breakthrough year for him, being a starter in the defence of the Allsvenskan team snd showing his great talent and potential.
A month after his signing for the Italian team, he made his debut in the national team, subsequently registering four more appearances in the team led by Janne Andersson.
As we can see in his statistical profile, Isak Hien has been a high point in the progression of his team, this being a team that has had a hard time maintaining solidity and balance in both phases of the attack and defence. However, he has worked his way up, despite the context, to have good percentile-based numbers around dribbling, progressive passing and threat passing.
Even defensively, we can see how impressive he has been in his aerial duels but a deficit in 1v1 duels, something that has also been partly due to what the team is looking for with the back-three, something that we will explain further in this article.
To begin this analysis, let’s see one of the characteristics of Isak Hien’s game which is that he likes to defend very close to his opponent. He knows that his physique is quite privileged and his cutting technique in defending a player from behind is very solid. Despite the fact that at any time an extremely unbalancing player can turn him, he always maintains good composure by holding the player. Even on certain occasions, this rival who defends tight ends up falling just from overexertion.
Playing in a back-four or a back-three, you can also notice Hien’s proactivity to get out and jump out of his zone, in search of forcing the opponent to cover his passing angles so that he cannot turn the game side of his team. This aspect is one of the most typical of the Swedish defender since on many occasions he tends to go quite far from his line but with a lot of determination to cut.
The timing to know when to start the run is key on his part, since he is not always on top of the opposing player, but rather he knows when to run towards the ball holder to annoy him and make him go back in the game. Furthermore, he is aware to return to his line afterwards. He is a player with a pace top, so he doesn’t have a hard time coming back.
As we can see in this first figure, Hien is much further ahead of his area, against a footballer who sought to receive further down on the pitch, lowering his position. Recognising this behaviour, the 23-year-old defender pulled the trigger and went to mark him forcefully from behind, managing to dispossess him with his physique, which has an extremely strong lower body that allows him to perform these tackles.
In this case, we can see that he was in the left sector of the field, where he is not uncomfortable both defending and with the ball. He is a player with a rather calm attitude toward the various resources he tries to bring out to help his team. Here, in what was being a back four, he has to go out almost to the halfway line through the central lanes. Also, he has shown that he knows how to do it in other types of channels on the pitch.
In the example that we can see again below, he is a right centre-back in the back-three. There, he has a lot more freedom to do it even though he is not shy about doing it also in the back-four where he has more security behind him. His pace and physical power allow him this.
Against Milan, he had the difficult task for any defender in the world right now, of facing Rafael Leao, his way and mission of trying to stop him was that he could not turn his body and play both sideways and in front of the goal, something that suits fascinatingly to the Portuguese style of play. He, therefore, had him marked very tight, going far out of his zone so that the winger would not turn.
Despite the fact that Leao is also a physically powerful player, especially in his lower body, Hien knew how to keep his balance against him and his proactive jumps gave his team a lot to not play against Leao with both space and time.
Not only does he stand out for what he can do behind his rivals, but also for his ability to overcome his opponents. His physicality helps him a lot to body his rival shoulder to shoulder, in order to get ahead of him and try to steal the ball from him or at times surprise him by anticipating his reception.
As we can see in the example below, Hien is capable of getting in front of his opponent in order to grab the ball and win possession in a fairly clean way, without much physical effort or probability of generating a foul, since in situations where defenders seek to steal the ball from behind, they often generate them.
However, his tackle was positive with great technique in it, to later take the ball and perform a ball-carrying all over the wing. Something that we will see as one of his best abilities in this article.
Sometimes his aggressiveness can carry more power than needed, which has generated some fouls even on the edge of the box. With this type of thing to improve, something that has been growing step by step from his first to the last match, Hien has a modern profile in terms of breaking off his line, which makes him an interesting player to play in a high block, who look to prevail in an aggressive rest-defence, to steal the ball constantly and recreate attacks over and over again.
Defensive and aerial duels
Isak Hien is a pretty solid player in the air. A lifeguard is either in the box or out of there defending an open field. His physical ability allows him to outplay players in this area but by more factors than just his strength. His positioning to measure well where and when the ball is going to fall, in order to time his jump and anticipate the opponent is the best thing he does in this type of defensive play.
He also normally employs good pitching techniques to direct the clearance to a teammate. He solves very well against long balls, not only because he reaches and clears, but also seeks to offer a pass in these situations.
Here, as we can see and we are going to see that is common in his game, Hien anticipates his rival’s jump. The key to all this is that, despite being a defender who sticks close to the opponent when he looks to steal on the ground when he goes to aerial duels he gives space to be able to jump freely and without any effort from the enemy to weaken him. His handling of steps back to then jumping quite high is top.
He does not abuse pushing or putting his hands on his rival’s back, which is why he almost always wins aerial duels without a foul.
This is a sequence that describes it really well. Contrary to many central defenders who stick to the opponent in these aerial duels, to block the initial jump. Hien doesn’t care about it, but he does care about the space he wants to have to be the first to get to the ball. He is an extremely tall player, but he also adds a really amazing jump that few rivals can reach.
All this is also thanks to timing. He knows when to back off his position, but he measures the ball, ducks his body and executes a powerful jump where he clears out the ball. He’s a very solid defender against long balls, he can clear out these kinds of passes throughout the match without any problem.
He is also a very solid player inside the penalty area, where he intercepts low passes that look for the player in the middle to finish plays, as well as crosses into the area. He’s aware of which players he has at his back and is very concentrated to swap markings. He also has good heading technique to reject crosses outside the box so the ball lands in a little danger zone for his team, as well as good positioning to block cutbacks.
In 1v1 duels, Isak Hien finds some weaknesses, playing in a back-three has been seen much more, because he must be much more involved in these situations playing as the centre-back on the right, covering the long runs of his wingers. Given this, players with great dribbling and elastic footwork are a kind of problem for the Swede, since he is not so technical to match that elasticity.
In this play, he is an example of how he feels safe. He came out of his zone to cut, but the opposing player is willing not to take him in a dribbling situation, as he turned his body and wants to move the ball forward purely running. Upon recognising this, the ex-Djurgarden defender applies a great tackle with his body stance from the side. This type of tackle can be done in a great way by him against players who want to face him in the run.
But later, when he finds himself very alone and has to stop rival dribbles, both at high speed and static waiting for the attacker’s decision, it gets complicated for Hien. Not only because of how good and skilled the player of the rival team can be, but since it’s not his strongest point, the formation doesn’t help him at all either. In certain games with the Swedish national team and Djurgarden, playing in a back-four, he blocked this type of weakness that he has shown in Serie A. Also, he doesn’t have a fast hip to spin his body against dribbles.
Here we can see an example against Armand Laurienté, an excellent ball-carrier and dribbler who confronts him in a 1v1 situation at the edge of the box. Hien had to cover his wing-back very up on the pitch, which looks for the worst side of him and ends the play with a penetrating movement to the penalty area that culminates in a goal.
In this example, we can see how, again on the edge of the penalty area, he is confronted with a 1v1 duel, where the rival player has cut in to look for a shot and he has been left behind, with no possibility of being able to stop the next shot/action to be decided by the opponent. It’s a pretty clear weakness in his game. He can even lose his constant calm and composure and turn into an impulsive player when it comes to these duels.
In conclusion, defensively Hien is a fairly fast player who covers the depth of his team, both in transition and in ab organised defence extremely well. His proactive way of defending outside his zone is great, where he steals many times the ball from his opponents and in addition, we can find his imperiality to defend through the air. He is not a weak defender at all, his physique and intelligence to stretch his leg at decisive moments, and even inside the area to stop shots is extremely top. If he improves his concentration to stop dribbling players, he will be an all-around imperial defender.
One of the capabilities that stands out the most for Hien isn’t just defensive, it’s the complete defender package of today’s football. The Swede has a quite positive passing-range in which he finds both passes between the lines, progressive as well as diagonal or long executions into space.
However, the best part of him in possession of the ball is what he can do with the dribble. He is too powerful and technical to carry the ball forward leaving players behind. His physique, speed and footwork make him a great ball carrier who can move his team from one-third to another in seconds with his runs.
As we can see, this season Isak Hien has progressed the ball a lot in this way, mainly seeking to dribble and advance through the wide-right-channel. However, he did exactly the same in the Allsvenskan in his debut season with Djurgarden.
In Hellas Verona, he has made it extremely clear how strong he is in this aspect of his game. Hien takes the ball and as soon as he sees space he starts at great speed. Along the way, he finds physical duels which he handles in a great way, holding the ball with his lower body being quite strong in order to achieve his final intention, which is to place his team quite high on the field and also finish the play with a good pass out wide or between the lines.
In this case, in the picture below, we can see the area where he takes the ball, recognises the space where he can run and undertakes the mission. Along the way, he could have been dispossessed by two players but his physicality allowed him to leave them behind, to finally find a pass to a teammate pinning out wide. He has moved his team from his own third to the opponent’s, near the penalty area. He knows when to release the ball and not an abuse of that long-ball-retentions. He’s intelligent to run and get his head high, to then find the pass.
His production in terms of passes to the last third or progressive passes has dropped significantly at Hellas Verona. Less time with the ball and such a poor context in terms of game creation means that he has lowered his number of passes between the lines but the quality and technique he still has and from time to time when the game allows him, he takes this responsibility to contribute to his team with his high-passing range. He’s surely the best passer from deep at Verona.
Before we see, on the field, what Hien can do from his pass, let’s take a moment to appreciate the difference in his current season with Verona and with Djurgarden in terms of progressive passes.
During his time at Djurgarden, he proved to be a footballer with excellent passing qualities and not only because of the accuracy and intentions in his passes, but with different resources that he shows the more confidence he has in his game and within what the team’s tactics allow.
As we can see in this image below, we have four examples of common Hien executions, some in Verona and others in the Swedish national team, where he is allowed more responsibilities with the ball. He tends to make low balls between the lines, as well as long balls into space and diagonals to the receiver’s foot. With great tension and parabola to fall into the danger zone.
With the ball, Hien is a footballer who knows how to attract pressure, handle it and then find a good pass. He knows how to be calm and move opposing blocks from side to side, as well as being aggressive to launch passes between the lines or penetrate zones with his excellent ball-carrying. In a team with more freedom, he would stand out greatly in this attribute, just as he did in the Swedish Allsvenskan.
Isak Hien is an extremely promising defender, with things at a very high level, in how he executes and how he thinks on the pitch. Calm, serene, creates zero problems, has absolute seriousness and great concentration to be both solid defensively, seeking to improve his weaknesses, as well as with the ball, understanding contexts and contributing with his excellent technique.
The teams that try to move for him, with Espanyol one of the first sides interested in him, as well as Torino, will get a fairly complete defender, with a lot to improve, which is incredibly exciting for his career and that of the team that signed him after Verona, or even for the, if they can maintain their stance in the Serie A this season.