We begin our mid-season look at Liverpool‘s loaned players by assessing Luis Alberto’s loan at Deportio La Coruna.
One of the players who sparked excitement for Liverpool upon signing, but who failed to shine and has since been shipped out, is Spanish playmaker Luis Alberto. The 23-year-old is out on loan at Deportivo La Coruña in La Liga this season and has found himself playing a key role in a resurgent side; Depor are in the top six and playing entertaining, fast football as they look to seal an unlikely return for European action at Riazor next term.
Style and Stats
Playing either in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2, Luis Alberto has been used as a versatile attacking option, of the type Depor can rely on a handful of in their current squad. It’s a simplistic approach of hard work off the ball and quick movement in possession that has taken Victor Sanchez’s side so high after battling relegation last term, with Liverpool‘s on-loan man embodying that mix.
A starter from the outset of the season, playing on the left side for the most part, the former Sevilla man hit the ground running in August and was a major part of the team until a groin injury sidelined him in November. Now returned to fitness, he has helped his team become extremely tough to beat—just two losses in 16 in La Liga, the same as leaders Barcelona.
It’s worth noting that although he often starts when fit, Luis Alberto has also been one of the manager’s go-to changes to firm up the side in the second half—he’s often subbed around the 65-70 minute mark, completing the full 90 just twice in La Liga. Even so, his 10 games have yielded two goals and two assists; little wonder as he has been so quick to cut infield and make a telling pass or get a shot away whenever possible. He added a further assist recently in the Copa del Rey.
His overall stats are not comparable against La Liga’s top players, of course, but in the context of a successful side he is effective for Depor: more than two shots and one chance created per appearance on average, in his 558 minutes of game play so far (per WhoScored).
“I spoke with the manager who knew me from Sevilla and he’s said that I’ll come here, I’ll be happy and I’ll feel like a footballer again” – The player on deciding to join Depor on loan.
“Luis Alberto played 576 minutes as a Malaga player, 366 in the first six games of the season and only 210 thereafter” — Malaga’s club website, on announcing decision to terminate the loan before the second year of Luis Alberto’s spell at the Andalucian side.
“Last year [at Malaga] was a bad year for me and I want to have a good game. I’ve been waiting for this game, it will be more special than usual” — Luis Alberto speaking ahead of the Malaga vs. Depor game in October.
“There’s been a [management] change at Liverpool which was needed, I hope they can start to fly high again. If I’m happy here [at Depor] then why change the air? Also [a return is] possible” — Luis Alberto chatting about Jurgen Klopp‘s appointment and his own future.
Luis Alberto created the first and scored the second as Depor won 3-1 at Rayo.
Q & A
To get an up-close and emotionally invested perspective of Luis Alberto’s season, we chatted with Depor fan and football writer Chris Moar (@MoarFootball) who has contributed to the likes of BeIN Sports and MailOnline.
What was the perception around Luis Alberto when the signing was announced, and how has that changed so far?
I speak for many fans when I say that we were a bit disenchanted with the signing of Luis Alberto. He was underwhelming at Malaga (on loan last season) and has not set the world alight since joining Liverpool.
I would say that we are all munching on humble pie right now because Luis Alberto is the breath of fresh air that this club has needed in the final third.
He is daring, adventurous and always willing to combine with teammates in an attempt to score or create chances. He’s always relentlessly attacking and carrying the side forward, forging a strong partnership with our top goal scorer, Lucas Perez, who has also been linked to Liverpool in recent weeks.
Luis Alberto was one of those who started the season with improved end product for Depor; now he’s back from injury, how high are your hopes that he’ll continue that in the second half of the campaign?
If his first two games back from injury are anything to go by, he will continue to shine at an extremely high level. He was impeccable against Llagostera (in the Copa del Rey) and turned in a very strong performance at home to Eibar a few days later. He’s still struggling for fitness which is understandable, but I think many are now expecting him to continue performing at the level which left us all dazzled.
In which position and role do you feel the team has seen the best of him?
Before talking about which role or position he has performed in best, it is worth mentioning that Luis Alberto has played as a sole striker, left winger, right winger and attacking midfielder without ever looking out of his depth.
It is a testament to his quality that he can retain a strong performance level regardless of where he plays, but I think he is most effective on the left. It allows him to cut inside and lash those thunderbolt strikes he possesses straight at goal.
Furthermore, he is given the freedom to drift into the centre and link up with Lucas—a combination which almost always ends in a goalscoring opportunity for either player.
What have been the biggest strengths of his game this season, and the most glaring weaknesses?
I’d say his biggest strengths have stemmed from his technical ability. We’ve been bereft of consistent creators in recent years and Luis Alberto brings that in abundance. His passing has been accurate, his shooting menacing and he is always willing to interchange with teammates in order to give us a better chance to perform in the final third.
In Spain, he has often been regarded as a greedy player but his time at Dépor has quashed that notion. Whenever you watch him play, it is clear that the manager has decided that he should be the man pulling the strings in the final third and making things happen.
In terms of weaknesses, I would just raise his fitness. He has already picked up two injuries since joining and often fails to complete two games in a row. I don’t think this is a chronic, recurring issue though. He’s just going through a rough patch in terms of a stop-start career. With more minutes and (hopefully) less injuries, this should cease to be an issue.
Given the opportunity, would the fans in general be happy to see him join on a permanent basis?
Yes. 100% yes. He has made us perform better in attack, gets the best out of our talismanic centre-forward and has contributed to lifting spirits at the club. We don’t have the sufficient money to oversee a permanent transfer unless both he and Liverpool came to a mutual agreement to terminate his contract.
Having said that, the new TV deal in Spain could help us out in that regard. It’s fair to say he is loving it here and has forged great friendships already. If the opportunity presented itself, I do think he would gladly move permanently to A Coruña.
This Season’s Aims
First and foremost, not falling down the table and getting involved in a relegation battle remains Depor’s primary aim, but already on 26 points, it doesn’t look as though they’ll have to worry about that unless an Eibar-esque collapse ensues. Although they’re in the top six at present, with Sevilla and Valencia still looking to find form over the second half of the season the assumption has to be that Depor’s smaller squad will drop at least a place or two over the long haul.
They’re a fine side, but a lack of numbers to call upon without the quality dropping in the starting XI is certainly an issue—not dissimilar to that faced by Athletic Club, for example, who are currently two points behind Deportivo.
The best chance they have of remaining in the conversation for a top half, top eight or even top-six finish is simply to continue doing as they have been: attack sides at will, at pace and with conviction.
For that, Luis Alberto will continue to be a pivotal part of the manager’s plans; he brings the guile that others such as Faycal Fajr or even the industrious Lucas Perez cannot match, while also showing far more consistency than the similarly talented Fede Cartabia.
With confidence and fitness on his side, Luis Alberto should be looking at clocking up over 1,400 minutes of La Liga action for Deportivo this season—comparable with the league game time for Liverpool of Joe Allen or Lucas Leiva last term, for reference.
Luis Alberto might have suggested staying at Deportivo would be good for him next season as he’s enjoying the football while there, but Moar’s point is a valid one: Luis Alberto cost Liverpool around €8 million and they’ll look to recoup at least half of that, if not the full amount, should they sell him on next summer.
Deportivo’s total outlay on signings over the last three years has been somewhere around €2 million. It’s also unlikely he’ll return to L4 to play a significant role for the Reds in fairness, with heavy competition for places in those same spots and every chance that Klopp will want to add established attacking firepower in the close season.
The best outcome for parent club and player alike is that a bigger, more established side in La Liga is impressed by Luis Alberto’s performances for Deportivo, and themselves make a permanent move for his services.
He’s clearly a talented attacking midfielder who has needed the right environment to flourish; next year, wherever his options are, the playmaker needs to ensure he moves somewhere where the manager will trust him in the same way Victor Sanchez has, to continue his career progression and make good on the potential which was visible when the Reds first made a move for him back in 2013.