these Football times give us the lowdown on Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas who has been linked with a move to Liverpool this summer.
It’s been a topsy-turvy season for Liverpool fans; the emotional high of watching Coutinho and Sturridge ruthlessly dismantle Newcastle in April was countered by the sense of too-little-too-late. But should we be as pessimistic as some fans suggest? I’d argue that the rebuilding process is firmly on the right path and the evolution at Liverpool, both tactically and in terms of playing personnel, points towards upward spike.
As Brendan Rodgers continues his revolution at Anfield, the early summer has been rife with speculation as to who will join the ranks and bolster a young squad blessed with talent but perhaps devoid with depth in a few key areas. A defender (or two) is an absolute must and with Kolo Toure and Kyriakos Papadopoulos heavily linked, it appears Rodgers is acutely aware of the need to enter phase two of his rebuilding process.
Another name heavily linked with Liverpool in recent days has been Celta Vigo’s Spanish striker, Iago Aspas. As an avid follower of the Spanish game, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the talented striker on numerous occasions throughout the season. So what will Liverpool be getting for the reported £7m?
To quantify the strengths of a footballer as versatile and varied as Aspas in one article is difficult. Perhaps the overriding desire to bring in Aspas is the notion that he should, in theory, fit into Rodgers’ system. His movement is exceptional, frequently dropping deeper and moving into the channels to find space. That, of course, is from a starting position centrally.
At Celta this season, he’s been deployed as the Number 9 although his movement and ability to beat the first man makes him more like a ‘False 9’ than a traditional one.
The desire to drift into channels supplements his speed and ability to take on the man. Frequently in La Liga this season, Aspas has been cutting onto his left foot from the right flank and testing keepers as well as using pace to beat defenders on the opposite flank. 11 goals and 6 assists is testament to his quality in a season where Celta finished rock bottom and only scored 34 goals; he was responsible for 50% of Os Celestes goals.
Stats aside, his versatility will be a useful asset for Rodgers. It appears that Fabio Borini will be given a chance to impress in a central striking role next season, as per what Rodgers has intimated and the role he has occupied since returning from injury. Few Reds will disagree; he looks a better player down the middle. So what does that mean for Aspas?
It’s the aforementioned versatility that will attract Rodgers. A centre-forward but equally comfortable on either flank or as the number 10, it will offer the manager a chance to shuffle his pack and play a more unpredictable brand of football. Couple his versatility with a natural desire to track back and regain possession, and his value to Liverpool is clear.
It wasn’t long ago that Aspas was considered by many to be Falcao’s replacement at Atletico Madrid. Subsequent links with Valencia and Chelsea only highlight the regard in which the 5ft 9in striker is held around Europe.
He’s perhaps best summed up as somewhere between Sturridge and Suarez. He offers the versatility and raw desire to create/score like Suarez but has pace like Sturridge and a left foot that is wizardry at times. Make no mistake, he’s not yet on the level of the aforementioned two but crucially, he doesn’t need to be. Not yet anyway. He needs to improve the depth of the squad and refine his game alongside his more senior peers. Perhaps then, we’ll see an Aspas that will challenge Suarez and Sturridge for a starting berth at Anfield.
It was a moment of madness in the Galician derby, a headbutt, in March that tainted his reputation in La Liga and resulted in his castration by Marca. A subsequent four match ban was handed to Aspas who said, “I screwed up and now I have to put up with it.”
Some will argue that Liverpool can do without the potential flurry of headlines by a striker who was deservedly sent off for an unprovoked attack. However it’s worth placing these things into perspective and looking at a player’s previous record. Aspas had never been sent off for violent conduct before the headbutt. Moreover he was the star turn in a team that was destined for relegation and blighted with the distraction of a managerial change and immense fan pressure. It was an error; one he admitted immediately after and vowed to ensure never happens again.
Discipline aside, Aspas will need to refine his considerable natural ability before he can become a player in the class of Luis Suarez. 3 shots per game point to his ‘overelaboration problem’ when faced with the choice between taking a shot and beating another man. It’s a refinement issue and one that the manager will be looking to address.
Further to the overelaboration, Aspas will also need to improve his balance. Being small is no hindrance to playing in the Premier League and impacting at the very highest level. If anything the ruggedness of tackles in Spain mirrors that of the Premier League. What is different, however, is the pace of the game and the frequency of challenges. Aspas will be required to play at speed more often therefore his balance on the ball will become crucial to his ability to beat the man and buy the Reds space and time, especially on the counter.
In Spain this season, he has been guilty of allowing himself to be fouled too easily, especially when a greater demonstration of balance may result in a chance to move further in on goal. Conversely, he wins free kicks, but it’s still an area he needs to improve on.
Other than the notes above, there are no real areas of weakness. His consistency will need to improve however it’s tough to measure how much that was down to Celta’s troubles especially when you consider that he was also brilliant in Liga Adelante the season before.
Fitting Into LFC
Initially it will be difficult for Aspas to cement a central role. His best bet will probably be operating off the right flank and using the inverted wingers role to test the keeper off his stronger left foot. One of his personal favourite ‘moves’ is the inside curler and playing off the right affords him the chance to get shots on goal. Tactically it will also ensure Glen Johnson is given freedom to move up and down the flank and help Liverpool overload in attack.
Surprisingly good in the air, with a strong leap, Aspas will likely be relied on at set pieces, especially on either post. While his height belies his quality in the air, he can step out from the posts at corners and challenge empty space. Rodgers has shown he likes to have an organized defensive set up – Aspas’ sound ability to challenge the ball will help.
As a final point, it’s worth touching upon the Celta man’s personality. He’s considered a leader in the Celta dressing room – commanding respect from his peers and coaches alike. It’s this nature that will aide his settling in period and bring a leader to the Liverpool front line. Unafraid to tell his midfielders where he wants the ball played, Aspas has all the making of Rodgers-esque player.
Bringing in the Celta man will inevitably be met with the usual rumblings of discontent. Many will point to the need for a proven goalscorer and a ‘bigger name’. However it’s important to consider where LFC are at the moment. Yes, IF Suarez goes, we will need a proven replacement. But with no European football on the horizon and limited funds, a player like Aspas will do much to improve the squad.
The likes of Falcao, Lewandowski and Cavani are unrealistic targets for LFC. Aspas is realistic and the one of the most talented players from the next band of strikers who are available in Europe. Depth is what Liverpool need (Sturridge and Suarez are outstanding players) and depth/balance is what Aspas will give.
Retain the belief and faith in a manager that in his short time at Anfield has already brought in Coutinho, Sturridge and academy starlets like Sterling and Wisdom. At £7m, Aspas is a snip and, given time, he will demonstrate the quality that has put him on the radars of many top European clubs.
Check out theseFootballtimes.net for more in-depth football analysis and reports.