Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

Scouting isn’t rocket science! Every time a Premier League side signs a good foreign player the nation goes crazy. Who is this mystery guy? Where did he come from? Anyone with a decent knowledge of the game outside the UK would have known that the likes of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Papisse Demba Cissé were likely to succeed, and there are plenty more of them out there. So who’s the next “secret” star to watch out for? Who is the next Cabaye?
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Now here’s a player who, through the course of the season, has sent me from pillar to post as I try to work out just how highly I rate him. With a move to Anfield apparently done and dusted, it’s time for me to make a final decision so I can spend next season seeing if my judgement was accurate or not!

Around Christmas I thought made a bit of a mistake about Iago Aspas. Writing a preview for the excellent Forza Futbol I rather lazily followed the judgement of an ex-player rather than my own instincts, and suggested that although Celta’s Iago Aspas was gifted, he lacked the intelligence to make the step up to a higher level. I was going against my gut instinct as he’d enjoyed a good start to the season. Soon I suspected I should have stuck to my guns: Aspas continued to appear to have class. Then the Galician derby came along and made me reassess him once more!

Aspas really caught the eye in the Spanish second division last season, when his prolific form was the key factor in Celta’s return to the top division. This season, he’s been their chief hope of survival.

iago_aspas_2Going into today’s final, decisive match of the season he has twelve goals and six assists, not bad for a club which has struggled all year. The fact that five of those goals have come on the road speaks well of him too: Celta have been moderate at home and dreadful away, but at least Aspas has been turning up when the going has been tough rather than performing in home games when circumstances have been easier.

However, just when my positive opinion of him was solidifying, along came the crucial derby at Deportivo. The stakes were massive, with both sides in dire danger of relegation. At the time it felt like only a win would be good enough for either side. You certainly couldn’t accuse Aspas of not caring. The problem is, just when Celta needed a big performance from their star player, he cared too much!

Expulsión de Aspas by Samuyamismo

His act of madness, a crazy headbutt on Carlos Marchena, came in the 29th minute when Depor were leading 1-0. It led to his sending off, Celta went on to lose 3-1 and he picked up a four game suspension.

He’s come back into the side and looked to make amends, with two goals in five games, but can he be trusted in pressure-cooker matches? He’s never scored in the Galician derby which means so much to him, and disciplinary problems have dogged his career. Marchena is as crafty as they come and no doubt ensnared him in one of his non-too-subtle Machiavellian ploys; Aspas will find plenty of players in the Premiership who will look to provoke him if word of a suspect temperament spreads.

He’s worked hard this season to contain his temper – until that derby – but has tended in the past to open his mouth before thinking. Maybe moving to a country where he doesn’t speak the language well enough to get himself into trouble won’t be a bad thing.


A classy striker, happy dropping deep, deadly on his left foot, Aspas has made the transition to the highest level smoothly this season. In fact, he’s shown many of the attributes Luis Suarez has shown for Liverpool: he’s a similar player in many ways, happy to roam in the second line and cut in from the flanks, but possessing the penalty area instincts to play as a Number Nine. Pity his similarities with Luis Suarez don’t end on the pitch.

He might not possess those positive attributes to quite the same level as Suarez, but has been fairly prolific as he drifts around, feeding off the likes of Michael Krohn-Dehli, so he ought to find the improved service from Steven Gerrard and co to his liking.


There was a lot of talk of Arsenal having a look at him earlier in the season, and it made perfect sense to me. He needed to make a move to that level of club. Now he has, it’ll be fascinating to see how he adapts.

Vicente Iborra (Levante)

Scouting isn’t rocket science! Every time a Premier League side signs a good foreign player the nation goes crazy. Who is this mystery guy? Where did he come from? Anyone with a decent knowledge of the game outside the UK would have known that the likes of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Papisse Demba Cissé were likely to succeed, and there are plenty more of them out there. So who’s the next “secret” star to watch out for? Who is the next Cabaye?

Rumour has it Vicente Iborra is high up on Brendan Rodgers’ wanted list for the January transfer window. We all know that Rodgers is more Football Manager devotee than Harry Redknapp-style punter, with a very clear idea of the attributes he requires from players in each position. So which of Brendan’s boxes does Iborra tick?

Well, he’s a solid midfielder with some similar attributes to Joe Allen, able to break play up and use the ball but inclined to sit in rather than press with the sort of energy Rodgers likes.

An upright, tall midfielder, his strengths lie in breaking up play and maintaining the side’s shape when they haven’t got the ball, as you might expect from a Levante player: their success has been built on defensive solidity and an ability to break effectively.

Iborra doesn’t tend to join in the counter attacks, but he can be an important attacking weapon. He’s often the springboard of a swift attack and has a good range of passing: although he’s right footed he can pass accurately over distance with his left as well. He has good vision and is able to play long, accurate balls down the channels for the likes of Obafemi Martins to run onto: Luis Suarez would enjoy that sort of service!

This rather eclectic video I found on youtube offers some idea of his strengths, particularly the first section, where he spreads some languid passes around, and the latter clip of a Villarreal attack which he covers without making a challenge, slotting into Zone 14 to reduce space.

The last match Iborra played in probably didn’t offer the best opportunity to judge his strengths: Levante’s home game against Barcelona required an even more solid defensive set-up than usual from Juan Ignacio Jiminez. As a result, Iborra’s role in the central midfield duo of a 4-2-3-1 required him to stand on the toes of the centre backs and ensure there was no space between the lines for Lionel Messi and his pals to roam. As a result, he didn’t get to touch the ball until 10 minutes and 48 seconds into the match!

However, the game did show certain key attributes. He was certainly tactically disciplined, never straying from his post, and he showcased his ability to read play and intercept, nipping in ahead of Barcelona players as he read passes swiftly.


So would he fit into the Rodgers way? Yes, but whether he’s a wise January target is a different matter. Looking at the Liverpool squad, you’d think he’d be used in rotation rather than be a first choice, with Allen and Nuri Sahin ahead of him in the pecking order. One would assume Rodgers will be looking for upgrades in the transfer window: squad depth can wait until the Summer. Waiting until the close season and then seeing first whether a deal could be cut for Sahin,  a player with a much broader passing range, seems a more obvious course of action.