Hearts' most important transfer window since 2014 - what positions could Daniel Stendel look at strengthening?

It is expected to be a busy January transfer window at Tynecastle as Daniel Stendel aims to reshape the squad

Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 5:37 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 5:47 pm

This transfer window is the biggest at Hearts since the summer of 2014. Back then there was a clearing of the decks following administration and relegation with Robbie Neilson getting to work with a blank canvas ahead of the Championship-winning campaign.

Owner Ann Budge had let go of the management team led by Gary Locke with senior players Ryan Stevenson, Jamie MacDonald and Jamie Hamill also departing - the latter criticising her for doing so.

Walking in the door at the Oriam last month, Daniel Stendel was presented with a canvas which was blotched, erratic and error-strewn. Art it was not.

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Daniel Stendel will be hoping to reshape the Hearts squad. Picture: SNS

Fans have already seen the German take an industrial-sized Tipp-Ex to the squad. Glenn Whelan has been let go, while Christophe Berra has been made available for transfer and told to train with the reserves, reportedly alongside Jake Mulraney and Craig Wighton.

The new manager, who now has his own No.2 in Jorg Sievers, admitted before the transfer window opened that the squad is too big, and it is no surprise that he has had to hasten the departures of players to make room in both the squad and budget.

Connor Smith, Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane have returned from loan to give the team a bit more youthful vibrancy. There are, however, still key positions which require strengthening.

Shipping goals

Club captain Christophe Berra has already been ushered towards the exit door. Picture: SNS

The first port of call is centre-back. Hearts have been far too easy to score against this season. Only Hibs and Ross County have conceded more in the league with the last clean sheet arriving in October. Individual and collective errors have plagued the side all campaign, while set-piece defending has been poor at best.

John Souttar is on the mend, but the last thing the new boss will want to do is rush back a player with such a complicated injury past, something which happened with Berra.

With the captain out the picture it leaves Craig Halkett, Clevid Dikamona and Michael Smith as centre-back options. Even then, the latter has been preferred in midfield of late by Stendel.

Naturally, there have been transfer links to Liam Lindsay who has Scottish Premiership experience and was managed by Stendel at Barnsley. Whichever central defender arrives they need to be assured on the ball, playing sharp passes out of defence on the deck. Defensively, they need to be quick on the turn, comfortable at playing a high line, and adept in one v one situations, covering the full-back in wide areas.

Vaclav Hladky would be the perfect goalkeeper for Daniel Stendel. Picture: SNS

Behind the centre-backs there are three goalkeepers who don't seem to fill the team with confidence and put the support on edge. Joel Pereira is a good passer but struggles with the most basic of basics - saving shots. Zdenek Zlamal is too erratic and can't play as a sweeper-keeper, while Colin Doyle is not quite at the level required.

The qualities Stendel will be looking for in a goalkeeper, aside from the ability to save shots, is one with composure on the ball, bravery and someone sharp off their line to sweep behind the high defensive line. St Mirren goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky would be the ideal signing, possessing all of those attributes, but his future appears to lie down south.

The final priority is width, and within that pace. Mulraney and Wighton appear to be on their way out. It would leave Callumn Morrison and to an extent Euan Henderson as the only wingers in the squad.

Viewing Stendel on the sidelines, he seemed to grow frustrated with Mulraney. He wants his wingers to be forceful, direct and brave with and without the ball. When he arrived, the Irish wideman was one player who appeared to have the qualities which he wanted. It hasn't worked out.

Stendel is eager for the return of Steven Naismith. Picture: SNS

Hearts, as a team, lack pace and a bit of mobility. In recent games it has been Sean Clare providing most of the thrust from full-back. Stendel needs attackers who can transition play quickly with pace, put the opposition on the back foot and look to stretch teams. Such a player (or players) will only benefit his 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 system.

Greater options out wide should aid the goalscoring problem.

Stendel likes duo

Eighteen goals in 21 games is not good enough. It can best be summed up by failing to score against Ross County, a team that have shipped 42 goals this season. Livingston have hit the Staggies for four twice already.

Stendel seems confident that he does possess the strikers who can provide the movements and incision he wants. He has spoken positively about both Steven Naismith, who can direct the pressing from the front, and the busy Conor Washington, who has the capacity to stretch teams in behind.

That being said, both have had their injury issues, while no one other than Naismith could be described as clinical. There is a reason the club are keen on Liam Boyce who is a proven goalscorer at this level.

Peter Haring is a huge miss in the midfield. Picture: SNS

Glenn Whelan's departure means, at this point in time, Michael Smith, Oliver Bozanic, Loic Damour and Andy Irving, joined by the returning Cochrane, are the options in the midfield positions behind the attack.

Irving showed what he is capable of against Aberdeen, while Smith is one of the most reliable players in the league. Cochrane was in and out of the team at Dunfermline, a similar case for Bozanic and Damour at Tynecastle. There is still a Peter Haring-shaped hole in the middle. The Austrian, if fit, would be huge for Stendel in terms of both implementing his style and getting his message across on the pitch.

A player of his stature - mobile, intelligent, combative and a fine passer - may be required if Haring's injury situation is not clearing up anytime soon.

The club need to do what they can to help Daniel Stendel reshape the squad. After mistakes of windows past, there is little margin for error at Tynecastle.