Liverpool FC have signed (pending some paperwork) Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo. The 25 year old Spaniard is believed to have cost the club in the region of £7.7 million, and is being touted as a versatile attacker who can play anywhere across the front three, or as a second striker. With Luis Suarez attempting to force his way out of Merseyside, comparisons between the two are springing up all across the Internet. However, there is reason to believe that Aspas is meant to be an additional option in attack, not a direct Suarez replacement.
A Little Background
Since joining their youth team at the age of 8, Iago Aspas has been a Celta Vigo player through-and-through. He scored 23 goals for Celta in the 2011-12 season, which helped them seal promotion to top tier football, and went on to save them from relegation with his 12 goals and 7 assists last season. He is a passionate player, one who cried when mobbed by fans on the last match of the season, Celta having narrowly avoided relegation (he assisted the lone goal in that match). And as is often the case, with intense passion sometimes comes a capability for madness, as witnessed in Celta’s match with local rivals Deportivo in March, where Aspas head-butted Carlos Marchena .
A Utility Belt of Attacking Football
Iago Aspas has spent a fair amount of his Celta Vigo career playing as a Central Striker. The left-footer has goals in him, and can surely be played in that position for Liverpool. But clinical finishing is not his strongest suit, and neither is he someone who is extremely comfortable with his back to the goal. Rather, his talents come to the fore best when he features in a slightly wider role.
Suarez may have been played as the Central Striker on a regular basis, but some of his greatest ‘YouTube moments’ have come when he receives the ball in a slightly wider position and uses his trickery and skill to cut horizontally towards the goal. Aspas has a similar style of play. He is somewhat more likely to wiggle his way towards goal rather than go wide and deliver a cross. The greatest threat to players of his mold is that if the opposition defence are aware that you’re more a threat when you cut inside, they will focus on forcing you wide and hence negating your threat.
Thankfully, Aspas seems to have some other weapons in his arsenal as well. Iago Aspas has a good eye for the final ball; when played with a good, mobile finisher (say Sturridge, if he firmly ties his shooting boots on next season), he will be on the lookout for a well weighed forward through ball. To top it off, he has been known to score from distance as well. An essential trait, as it adds an extra edge of unpredictability to his play.
Right physicality for the Premier League
Often when players move to an English club from abroad, questions are raised on whether they will be able to match the physical, pacey style of play in England. These questions were raised for the arrivals of the likes of Torres, Suarez and Coutinho. These questions will, however, not come up in relation to Iago Aspas. At 5’ 9” he isn’t diminutive, and he has the right mix of pace and strength needed to survive the Premiership. Not afraid to get his head down and go shoulder-to-shoulder with another player, he will give Rodgers a different option from the somewhat more light-weight alternatives like Borini, Sterling and Downing. He also has a massive work rate, and will be able to put in the leg-work needed to contribute to defence when needed. Expect him to be a good source of counter-attacks for Liverpool, thanks to these traits.
Aspas has a strong personality, for want of a better phrase. He is being compared to Suarez based on his head-butting incident, but that is possibly a little unfair on him (biting is surely higher on the “what were you thinking” scale). If anything, a better comparison would be Craig Bellamy. The man hit his team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club one day, apologized the next, and then made fun of it while celebrating a goal against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Aspas seems to have strikingly similar behaviour patterns (he bounced back from the Marchena event sufficiently to aid his team in their final victory), and also a similar sense of fierce loyalty (Bellamy turned down Tottenham for a second stint at Liverpool under Dalglish, Aspas decided not to leave in the winter as he wanted to ensure Celta did not get relegated). It will be up to Rodgers to ensure that his passion and aggression are directed in the right direction.
Do Liverpool really need him?
Yes. Plain and simple. Irrespective of the uncertainty about he has the caliber to set the Premier League alight, Liverpool are in dire need of signings of his sort of player. Even in the 2012-13 season, Liverpool did not boost the strongest or deepest of squads. He had to resort to using a player like Borini, who is far more comfortable playing centrally, in wide positions. Now with Suarez fishing for an exit in the general direction of Madrid, the need for the right attacking players is even more dire.
As discussed in an earlier piece, Rodgers will need all the aspects of Suarez’s play to cope (and hopefully improve) in the coming season. Aspas ticks a few of those boxes, as can be seen in WhoScored’s profiles of Iago Aspas and Luis Suarez (look at the attributes listed under either’s “Style of Play”). He will be a good asset to have while dealing with the Uruguayan’s exit.
In Rodgers we trust?
Making any predictions in the transfer market game of roulette is at best intelligent guesswork, at worst open eyed fantasizing. Every Liverpool fan is wondering why money has been spent on a relatively unknown player rather than a star (read: hyped) player. But, at the face of it, buying the versatile forward for a sub-£8 million transfer fee (remember, forwards are generally the priciest buys) seems like a good bet to make for Brendon Rodgers. If we look at the worst-, best- and mediocre- case scenarios:
Worst Case: £7.7 million sunk, for a player who will end up being only a squad rotation option. Not an admirable position to be in, but not an Andy Carroll-esque catastrophe either.
Best Case: If he forms a partnership with Sturridge that is anything like the kind of psychic-sync between Suarez & Sturridge, they could form a truly lethal attack with a constantly changing focal point, creating perpetual confusion for the opposition to mark and defend.
In-between: Iago Aspas will be used whenever tactics call for a right-winger who cuts inside, either to contribute to play himself, or to make space for a right-back (Johnson/ Kelly) to bomb forward. Having both him and Downing (or his replacement, if he is sold) available will make a tactician like Rodgers happy.
On second thought, in light of recent events, Liverpool fans may fear that the worst case would be if he scores tons of goals this season and then decides to move out because he doesn’t like the plumbing in Merseyside, and has heard it’s much nicer in Madrid. Let’s see how this story plays out.