Football Index

La Liga Golden Boot Dark Horses

As La Liga’s big three struggle to get consistent results in the early months of the campaign, the window of opportunity has never been wider for both clubs and individuals to catch the eye in the absence of dominating performances from the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are the favourites to take the top-flight’s golden boot award this season, but plenty of other forwards have got off to promising starts in Spain.

Cristhian Stuani (Girona, £1.51) – 11 goals

The current leader of the pack when it comes to goalscoring in La Liga, Stuani has kicked on massively since joining Girona at the start of last season. The Uruguay international has scored around half of his club’s top-flight goals since their promotion, netting 32 times and putting himself in the same kind of bracket as Messi and Suarez. Deadly in the air, blessed with the physical prowess to put himself about and make himself a nuisance for opposing central defenders, Stuani is the main man and focal point in a team that are flying high.

 

Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £2.37) – 10 goals

A man with an eye for the spectacular, rather than tucking away easier opportunities, Iago Aspas has been one of Galicia’s most dangerous strikers for a number of years. Putting away ten goals in 14 games, the Spain international ensures that a leaky Celta Vigo defence doesn’t get in the way of keeping things competitive. New boss Miguel Cardoso is not short of attacking talent, with plenty of direct options in wide areas and technically gifted midfielders that should provide plenty of ammunition across the league campaign.

Borja Iglesias (Espanyol, £1.58) – 8 goals

Despite only spending a few months at Espanyol, Borja Iglesias is already getting close to etching his name in the club’s history books. His goal against Girona recently was his fifth consecutive goalscoring league game, putting him level with club legend Raul Tamudo. Physical, intelligent and hard working, Rubi has a perfect target man with composure and a poacher’s instinct. He’s earned his side five points on his own, as a direct result of his goals, too.

Andre Silva (Sevilla, £2.67) – 8 goals

A hat-trick on his La Liga debut was a good way to start, and the signs have looked promising for Andre Silva ever since. Offering the perfect blend of attributes for Pablo Machin’s system at Sevilla, the Portuguese can hold the ball up, as well as offer a threat in behind or in the air. The club’s sporting director has already confirmed that they will be making his loan move permanent after a dream start in Andalusia.

Roger Marti (Levante, £1.21) – 8 goals

When Levante made their return to LaLiga, Roger was a huge helping hand in their promotion campaign from Segunda with 22 goals. After having the vast majority of last season snatched from him due to a serious injury, it was only in the season half of the campaign that the 27-year-old began to be reintroduced. This time around, he had a full pre-season of preparation and has been able to hit the ground running. Roger has the nose to sniff out half-chances in the penalty area.

Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo £2.62) – 7 goals 

One of LaLiga’s revelations last season, Maxi Gomez is showing no signs of slowing down. Fresh off the back of a World Cup experience with Uruguay, the 22-year-old has returned to domestic action with seven goals in 12 appearances – making just ten starts. Celta are under new leadership in Miguel Cardoso, with the Portuguese coach looking to put more emphasis on direct, attacking play, and that should suit Maxi perfectly. Great in the air and a natural finisher in the penalty area, he has all of the attributes to become a top striker in Europe.

Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla, £2.16) – 7 goals

Last season was one of frustration for Wissam Ben Yedder, as three different coaches failed to put him at the forefront of their plans at Sevilla. Gradually, Pablo Machin has began to use the Frenchman as a perfect partner for Andre Silva in his front two. Full of energy and with an understanding of what the club means to its fanbase, Ben Yedder is a tireless runner but also has the technical ability and low centre of gravity to make himself a nuisance on the ball, playing himself into consistent first-team contention.

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Football Index

The Surprise Leaders Of La Liga: Sevilla

With just 13 games played, Pablo Machin’s Sevilla sit loud and proud at the top of La Liga although even their most ardent fans would probably admit that it is probably more by luck than judgment; more by accident than design.

Just six points separate the top seven clubs as everybody seems to be taking points off everyone. Could Sevilla conceivably maintain their challenge all the way to only its second-ever La Liga title? (The last one was in the 1945-46 season).

Probably not but it has certainly been a topsy-turvy season that has seen shocks aplenty – Real Madrid thumped 3-0 at Eibar and the then top placed Barcelona going down to the then bottom place Leganes, to name but two – so just about anything looks like it could be possible.

But what is most interesting is how Sevilla managed to get themselves into this position.

While they are certainly the form side having lost just once in nine games with a return of 22 points from a possible 27, it was changes forced upon them by injury that precipitated the upturn in their fortunes.

That, and the fact that Pablo Machin is holding a number of trump cards in his hand.

Machin has always favoured playing three at the back plus the use of two defensive midfielders. Unfortunately injuries suffered by the two men specifically picked for that job (Ibrahim Amadou and Maxime Gonalons) meant he had to improvise. When he placed Ever Banega in that position he will have been more than pleasantly surprised to see the midfielder take to the task like the proverbial duck to water.

If Machin has one quality it is his ability to adapt and his decision to opt for one holding midfielder instead of two and play a second forward (Ben Yedder) up front came after a 2-0 home defeat by Getafe. He felt the players were demanding it, he realised changes were needed. So far it has proved to be his ‘eureka’ moment.

No player in La Liga has won the ball back more often than Banega this season and the balance is further established with Franco Vazquez playing to his left and Pablo Sarabia to his right, two players that up to then had been considered to be far more attack-minded than their new roles demanded.

But somehow this shake it and see combination has brought home the ‘jamon’ and Machin has also been helped by some seriously impressive form from some of his other players, at both ends of the pitch.

In the Czech, Tomas Vaclik, Machin has probably got the, currently, most impressive goalkeeper in La Liga while up front Andre Silva, currently on loan from AC Milan but whom Sevilla want to buy, is having the season of his life. He has been aided and abetted by Wissam Ben Yedder who Machim orignally wanted to sell, but who has also subsequently shown everyone just effective he can be.

Jesus Navas, back in his beloved hometown since August last year, is enjoying a real swansong of a season and is crossing the ball as well, if not better, than he ever did in his heyday.

But much will now depend on what business Sevilla can do in the upcoming winter window because they will almost certainly need to strengthen in depth if they hope to strive for La Liga glory.

The reason for that is clear to see. With Amadou still in the process of getting to match fitness and Gonalons out of the picture, when Machin has attempted to re-cycle the side as he did when he played Roque Mesa in the defensive midfield role, what you got was a weaker looking Sevilla although a great goalkeeper and two in-form strikers have been able to mask the problem.

He will, therefore, be looking to add another holding midfielder and another striker to take the pressure off Andre Silva and Ben Yedder. They do have the Dutchman, Quincy Promes, and Muriel, although neither has made too much of an impact since they arrived at the club.

And it is also perhaps worth pointing out that it will cost them a cool €35m should they decide – which they surely will –  to sign Silva on a permanent basis when his loan spell ends, more than €15m more than they have ever spent on one player (Luis Muriel) in the club’s history.

Whoever they buy will have to hit the floor running because Machin will know better than anyone that he will need reinforcements if he is to keep up the momentum and level of competitiveness that will help them to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Win it or not they certainly look like a very good bet indeed for a top-four finish and aided by a good wind and similar strokes of good fortune such as those already enjoyed, who knows what might pan out at the end of what is proving to be a wonderful and intriguing season.

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Football Index

Who Does Luis Enrique Look To Now?

Luis Enrique has a difficult job on his hands. At a time where Spain’s talent pool is so vast, there are few excuses for not getting successful results. Leaving out big names such as Jordi Alba cranks up the pressure further, but having the luxury to make such a call highlights the level of competition with this current generation. The cogs are there, it is a case of piecing together the right machine to house them.

After a purposeful start under their new boss, signalling a change in style to the Julen Lopetegui era, a 3-2 defeat to England brought Spain back down to earth. Despite their disappointment in Russia, the last couple of months have been filled with Spanish optimism. New faces have been integrated into the national team, while their coach’s desire for direct football has been a welcome change after the ponderous, nervous approach play during the summer.

While the majority of La Roja’s squad is set in stone, recent weeks have been a big opportunity for peripheral players to prove their worth. Wolves loanee Jonny Otto picked up his first two caps for his country, while Marcos Alonso and Jose Gaya continue to profit at left back in Jordi Alba’s absence.

Atletico Madrid’s young midfield star Rodri performed well against Wales, highlighting that there is hope when Sergio Busquets chooses to retire from the game, and Marc Bartra and Raul Albiol got some minutes at centre back after a long leave of absence.

Spain still want to dominate the ball and control the game, but are equally happy to run the risk of moving possession at pace. Against England, defensive woes saw Spain collapse in the first half and concede three times, but a spirited fightback in the second could quite easily have seen the home side restore parity in Seville. For all of the negative comments that could be made towards Luis Enrique’s back four, there were certainly other positives to be drawn.

The introduction of Borussia Dortmund loanee Paco Alcacer resulted in a lovely headed goal, as the Spanish forward continues to average a goal around every 25 minutes this season. His parent club Barcelona are ironically still searching for a number nine to help rotate their forward line, but Dortmund are reported to hold a 23-million-euro option to buy for the ex-Valencia star.

Alcacer already has 10 goals to his name this season, a total which has surpassed his efforts across all competitions for Barça in 2017/18. Confidence is flowing through his veins, as his intuition for sniffing out chances reinforces the fact that he has long been thought of as a very dangerous poacher. At Camp Nou, the 25-year-old was always second fiddle and often deployed out of position – for Spain he could become vital at a time where Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata are struggling to find consistent form. Last active for La Roja in 2015, Alcacer is a welcome blast from the past.

Dani Ceballos came off the bench well at Estadio Benito Villamarin too, revisiting his footballing home where he enjoyed his formative years as a professional at Real Betis. The swashbuckling Real Madrid midfielder has been given further responsibility under Lopetegui at his club this season, after being frozen out by Zinedine Zidane prior.

Awarded the Best Player of the tournament award at the Under-21 European Championships in 2017, Ceballos has the individual quality to prove himself key on some of the biggest stages in football. At the age of 22, he has fire in his belly and the confidence to constantly ask for possession, never hiding from the opportunity to have an influence on proceedings. With their new, riskier style, Luis Enrique needs players that don’t cower from the spotlight.

Few players managed to get out of the England debacle unscathed, but Paco Alcacer and Dani Ceballos did their reputations no harm. Spain’s loss may have momentarily derailed the confidence that was building, but La Roja are well aware that they have fresh faces that can step up to the plate and be key in both the long and short term. Their new boss has seen excellent football and abject defending, but Luis Enrique has the depth of personnel to help them learn from their mistakes

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