Pablo, first of all, how great was it to get back playing football last weekend?
Yes, after a long time everybody – the players, the fans, the staff – they miss the football a lot. It is a strange situation to play football without the fans but it is this now and we need to adapt to this new way to play football, try to play the rest of the games this season and hopefully the situation will improve.
Obviously it was a disappointing result down at Cardiff last week, but from a team perspective how important was it to get the win on Saturday, regardless of how it came about?
Yes, the first game against Cardiff was not a good result for us. After wanting to come back (to playing football) for a long time, we wanted to play good and win games, but it was not the resulted we wanted. I think every game is difficult, most of the teams play for something, like Cardiff who were playing for the play-offs. Every game is hard now. After we lost against Cardiff I think the team knew the game against Fulham was one of the most important games this year and we needed to win to get important points for us. Now we need to be focused on the next game and try to win the three points because we are close to achieving out target. We need to continue working hard to win points and achieve the goal which is promotion.
You received a lot of praise from the commentary team during the game for your role in Jack Harrison’s goal. You have received a lot of praise in the media afterwards. Can you tell us how you saw it after you played the pass?
It is a good pass, but I think it is a collective goal. Before I received the ball, the team worked well to recover the ball, as we had a good defence against Fulham. It is a good ball from me to Jack, but I think Jack did a very good run and scored with a good finish. I think it is important to score goals like this because I think it is a collective goal.
Did you see Jack make the run or did you instinctively know that it was the area he would be in?
I knew that he would be there. We normally have two wingers in this position. Just before I received the ball, I had a fast look at him and I knew he was ready to run and I tried to put the ball behind the defenders, he did a good run and scored a good goal.
Earlier in the game, of course, a lot was made of Aleksandar Mitrovic’s challenge on Ben White. Was there anything thought about that by the Leeds players at the time or is that just part and parcel of the game?
It is not nice to see these actions, no. I was in the stand with all the other substitutes and I didn’t see anything. I saw the video after the game and I knew that it wasn’t fair. Now, it is not our decision. Now need to wait and see what the FA do with him. It is his problem, not ours. We need to focus on winning and forget everything.
What about Luton, then? They have had a change in manager since you last played them. They are fighting for survival themselves and their manager has said that this isn’t a free-hit for them. They need to get something from the game.
Yes, sometimes for the fans, when you see this game you see we are at the top and Luton is in the last position and you think this is a game for us. But now, I repeat, every game is hard. They need the points like us and it will be a difficult game. We know if we play our football we won’t lose our identity like we have when we have played most of the games this season, but we know after the Fulham game we need to be focused 100 per cent.
Are you able to concentrate on just the next game, as you have told us all season long, or can you see the finishing line in sight now?
Obviously we know that we have seven games to play, but in just three or four weeks it is a very short period of time. We know that the next three weeks will be hard because we play a lot of games in a short period. This will be difficult for the players but we are ready. All the players are excited to play games, win games and achieve the goal.
Pablo, with that in mind, do you think you have benefited more than most from the rest? Has it really helped you having those few months away?
I don’t know. When we played the last game against Huddersfield before we stopped playing, I felt very good. I had no problems, but when we came back to training at Thorp Arch I felt good and ready to play again. Just one week before the first game, I have a massive injury problem, which meant I couldn’t play in the first game (against Cardiff), and now I know I have experience of these circumstances and I need to manage this with the medical staff and the manager. I will play, always, but I know I need to manage this.
Pablo, it was a really impressive 45 minutes from you. At half time, in your mind, what did you think you had to do to change the game yourself?
At half time I knew I was coming into the game. I tried to help the team to keep more of the ball when we recovered the ball. I knew we had possibilities to find spaces, as the score was 1-0 and Fulham needed to find a goal, which meant they left more space in behind. I tried to help the team with this, make the defence work and help my teammates.
Leeds United’s Pablo Hernandez in action against Fulham on Saturday. (Image: Alex Dodd/CameraSport)
(Image: Alex Dodd/CameraSport)
On the final whistle, Pablo, what was the sense? Was it one of relief?
If you win, you win three points, it is the same every game. This game was special because it was against a team that want the same target as us and we knew if we had lost this game we would have lost the gap that we had before the break. For the motivation and spirit of the team, this gives us a lot of confidence ahead of the next game, and we need to take advantage of this against Luton.
I know you won’t take this game lightly, Pablo, but in the game at Luton, I think Leeds had 21 shots and only just won the game. What is it about Luton that could make them difficult to beat?
Yes, Luton is a strong team in defence; they are always compact, defend well and it is probably going to be the type of game that we play normally when we have more of the ball. We need to work well in attack to find the spaces to create chances and this is a normal game that we face. I don’t say anything different about this. Luton will play their game and try to take advantage in the counter-attacks, so we need to be focused in the defence.
How is the injury, Pablo, and how fit are you ahead of the game?
Obviously I am not 100 per cent, but I feel good. I feel like I can play and help the team. The last decision falls to the manager, but I know the situation and how important it is to win games. For me, it doesn’t matter if I play more minutes or less. If I can help the team for 10 minutes I will give everything. If the manager decides 90 minutes, it will be 90 minutes. But all the players within the squad need to be ready and that is my mentality now.
With Mateusz Klich, I just wondered what he is like to play with. What does he do that helps you do what you do?
I think he is a player who will always run, with or without the ball. He has improved a lot in the last year and I think we are very lucky to have him in our team. It is great to play in front, behind or alongside him as he gives you good options.
Jack Harrison has improved a lot over the last year. You have watched him in training, what has allowed him to get better? What has he done to get better?
I think his football in the last year has improved a lot. He also works a lot every day in the training ground in an effort to improve. These type of players always achieve and I think he is one of the key players for us in every game, and I hope he can continue to score goals over the next seven games.
Pablo, do you get tense or nervous at times like these? How do you manage the pressure of this situation?
I try to be calm. You know that you need to win games to achieve your goal. I try to remain calm for both myself and the other players. I think we need to do the same, as we did in the past few games. Nothing different. These are important moments that we are in now and I think we need to face the games the best we can.
On your pass to Jack Harrison on Saturday, can you teach a player to pass like that, or does it have to come naturally?
I think it is difficult to learn. This is not from the training ground. Ninety-nine per cent of the players can do this pass. Sometimes the most important thing in football is the speed of the head and I always try to decide the pass before I receive the ball. I had a little bit of time to look at Harrison and see if anyone was close to me. But if Harrison didn’t do the past it wouldn’t have happened.
What was the nature of your injury? Which muscle is it?
I have a problem in the hamstring, but nothing serious. Now it is difficult to manage this as we have a lot of games, but it was just this.
Last year, you were in a similar good position and it fell away in the last few games. Does it feel different this year? Does it feel like there is less complacency? Has the whole group learned from last year, and with an eight-point gap, that means that there cannot be any slacking?
Yes, I think it is a little different. We learn a lot from last year. This year we have managed the situation better. In the bad moments you need to take positive things and I think we have done that after last year. We need to put things right this year to take advantage, and until now the group – the players and the staff – have managed this very well and we know we are together to achieve the goal. It is an unbelievable chance for us.
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Has anyone in the dressing room got carried away? Have you had to calm anybody down?
No. Everybody is 100 per cent focused and decided to help the team. The dressing room is unbelievable and we are in a good way.
Just on your injury, are you hoping to return to full fitness before the end of the season?
I hope, yes. I think for this, we need to manage the situation well and see what happens. But I think I am ready in the next days to be ready and be 100 per cent fit to help the team. After the break, I wanted to play and help the team. But I have experience in this situation and know that these things can happen. I just need to work well to be 100 per cent in the next days. We will work in this way.
Pablo, you have been at the club four years now. You were clearly upset when you failed to get promoted last year. What would it mean to you to get this club into the Premier League?
I always say the same. I was very happy from the first day I arrived in Leeds. When I came four years ago, I knew I was coming to a big club, but obviously I saw Leeds play Valencia in the semi-finals (years ago in the Champions League). But when I arrived, I was very surprised because it was bigger than I had seen. To get promoted with this club would be the best trophy for me in my career. For me, to play in the Premier League with Leeds United is a dream.