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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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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Wales winger Gareth Bale, 29, was top of a poll of Real Madrid fans about who the team’s worst performing player has been this season. (Marca)

Wales winger Gareth Bale, 29, was top of a poll of Real Madrid fans about who the team’s worst performing player has been this season. (Marca)

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FootballINDEX Blog: Six Spanish Youngsters To Watch

 
La Liga is bursting with young Spanish talent and it proved a difficult job to choose just 6 players to watch but I did just that. Read on to discover my choices.
 
 
Ferran Torres (£1.57, here)
With just about every club in Europe including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool looking to steal Ferran Torres away from Valencia, this April saw the club sign the 18-year-old to a new deal until 2012 with a buyout clause of €100m.
 
With all potential predators suitably discouraged, Torres broke into the first team squad of the club where the young midfielder/winger has spent his entire footballing career from the age of six.
He made his La Liga debut on 16 December, playing the last nine minutes in a 1–2 loss at SD Eibar.
 
He has also represented his country at Under 17 level 24 times and made five appearances for the Under 19s.
 
There is plenty of competition for his place on the right wing or on the right-hand side of midfield with players like Carlos Soler, Guedes and Cheryshev but there are still many in Valencia that believe he should be in the starting XI.
 
Many believe he would benefit from more playing time and there was talk of a loan deal to Real Sociedad although Marcelino rejected the idea and has made it more than clear that the youngster is very much part of his future plans.
 
He has also grabbed the attention of UEFA who have included him in their list of the 50 young stars to follow this season.
 
 
Abel Ruiz (£1.98, here)
Valenciano from the small town of Almussafes, Abel started with Valencia before joining the Barcelona Academy as a 12-year-old
 
An old-fashioned number he plays in a similar style to Robert Lewandowski and has also been compared to a young Marco Van 
Basten.
 
According to Diario Sport, he has already attracted the attention of a number of Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City.
 
In fact, he is so highly rated by the club, that in June when he extended his contract for a further three seasons with an optional two more, they also included a staggering 100m€ buyout clause. This is in place to deter any bids to entice him away from the Camp Nou.
An elegant centre-forward with a nose for goal, Ruiz has a physical presence as he is 1.82m tall but he can also play on the wing. “I’m a more direct player, a good finisher,” he told Diario Sport earlier this year when asked to explain his style. “I hold the ball well with my back to goal and I consider myself a complete forward.
 
He is the top goalscorer in the history of the Spain under-17 team on 27 goals and is also its most-capped player with 37 appearances. He is also the top goalscorer in the history of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals: 8 goals (shared with Amine Gouiri and Odsonne Edouard) and the top goalscorer in the history of UEFA European Under-17 Championship on 16 goals (shared with José Gomes)
 
Carles Alena (£2.21, here)
Already a member of the first team squad he is, to many, the answer to Barcelona’s search for a long-term midfield influence following on from the likes of Iniesta and Xavi.
 
Although hampered by injuries, he is now back to full fitness and is expected to feature in the first team at some point in the season. If he does he will be the first player from La Masia since Sergi Roberto to nail down a place in the first team.
 
A left-footed midfielder who is an excellent striker of the ball, Carles Aleñá has been an FC Barcelona player since the age of eight. His natural ability has seen him rise quickly through the youth teams to reach Barça B. When he was a still officially an U19A player, he was already a fixture in the B squad.
 
Aleñá is a different kind of midfielder. With a great left foot, he is strong and not afraid to take players on. Furthermore, he is not afraid to come inside and use his technical ability to shoot from outside the box
 
On 30 November 2016 he made his debut for Luis Enrique’s first team in the Copa del Rey tie away at Hércules which ended 1-1. The midfielder from Mataró scored Barça’s only goal of the game with an excellent effort from outside the box.
 
On 6 September 2017, Aleñá signed a contract extension with FC Barcelona for the next three seasons with a buyout clause of 75m€.
 
Fran Beltran (£1.45, here)  
Born in Sesena in the South of Madrid, Fran Beltran is generally regarded as one of the hottest young prospects in La Liga
 
Aged just 19 he was on Getafe’s Academy, he joined Rayo Vallecano’s set up aged 14 and played in their reserves in the third division when he was just 16.
 
He signed a five year deal with Celta Vigo in August of this year after they paid his  €8m buyout clause. While Celta were ecstatic about having signed him Rayo were less than impressed about how things panned out, claiming that while things may have been done legally, morally Celta had been found wanting in their handling of the deal.
 
Celta meanwhile couldn’t have cared less claiming in a press release that they had signed him because he was, “a talented player who shows great physical fitness, defensive strength and ball-winning qualities and brilliant intelligence with his control and distribution of the ball.”
 
He made his debut in the Primera Liga on 18 August, starting in a 1–1 home draw against RCD Espanyol.
 
Since then he has been an automatic starter in all but one of the league games this season when he came on from the bench. He previously made his debut with Rayo at just 17 and made 71 appearances for them between 2016-18 and he has already represented his country at Under 17, 18 and 19 level.
 
Achraf Hakimi (£1.86, here)
Achraf Hakimi has much in common with Dani Carvajal and not just because they are both Real Madrid players who play as right backs.
 
The 19-year-old Hakimi is currently the right back of preference at high-flying Borussia Dortmund who are taking the Bundesliga by storm and where the Madrid born Moroccan International is on a two-year loan deal.
 
It was only after taking the advice of Carvajal who had previously been on loan at Bayer Leverkusen that he opted to go to the Bundesliga and so far it is proving to be a very wise decision.
 
He had already made his debut for the Real Madrid first team and with regular first-team options limited in the coming season it suited all parties that he should improve as a player at the highest level possible
 
“I had a lot of offers, but Dortmund’s was the one that had me convinced,” Hakimi said. “The team likes to play very attractive football and they try to make young players better. I had Carvajal in front of me at Real, but he told me to make the most of the opportunity: go there, play and enjoy it.”
“He’s playing so well,” said Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre. “He’s great going forward and he does a good job at the back. He played at left-back for Morocco, but prefers to play at right-back. He has so much potential.”
 
So much so in fact that his performances have earned him the right-back berth ahead of the established Dortmund legend, Polish defender, Lukasz Piszcek.
In addition to his club football he has already represented Morocco 19 times as a full international making his debut when aged just 16.
 
Marc Roca (£1.23, here)
 
 
These are truly heady days at Espanyol who find themselves after eight La Liga games in fifth place, separated from a fourth-placed Real Madrid by virtue of just one goal fewer scored.
 
An ever-present in the starting line up this season central midfielder Marc Roca, a product of the Espanyol academy that he joined as an 11-year-old back in 2008.
 
New Espanyol coach, Joan Francesc Ferrer ‘Rubi’, has placed his faith in Roca in the vital pivot role linking defence and midfield and the young Catalan has rewarded him by taking to the role like a duck to water.
 
Although it was the previous coach, Quique Sanchez Flores that gave him his chance in the first team, he spent most of his time on the bench and played just 100 minutes all season.
 
Now almost certainly one of the first names on Rubi’s teamsheet, much of Espanyol’s early form has been attributed to Roca’s great start to the season and he has been rewarded with a call-up for Spain’s under 21 side for both of their forthcoming qualification games for the European Championships.
 
He previously came onto the radar of various Premier League club including Liverpool and Southampton and Espanyol’s recent run of good form will once again push the 21-year-old defensive midfielder right back into the spotlight.
 
Any attempts to lure the central midfielder away from will come at a much higher price now however following his signing of a contract extension that should keep him at the club until 2022 and includes a buyout clause of €40m.
 
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Harry Kane could flourish in La Liga – Sergio Ramos

Source: bbc.co.uk/football

Spain captain Sergio Ramos believes England counterpart Harry Kane has the ability to succeed in La Liga – and sees him as the dangerman in Monday’s Nations League match in Seville.

Tottenham’s Kane, 25, has gone six games without an international goal.

But, asked whether any England players would flourish in Spain, Ramos replied: “Harry Kane is physically a fantastic striker but also technically.

“He can surprise you – but not me as we have prepared for him.”

Spain are in pole position in their Nations League group after back-to-back victories – including beating England 2-1 at Wembley last month.

But Ramos, who is set to win his 160th cap, has been impressed by the Three Lions, who finished fourth at the World Cup in Russia.

“There are always very technical players in the England team that are dangerous but I can assure you we have been watching them,” said the 32-year-old Real Madrid defender.

“We know the level of difficulty will be very high. We know we have a fantastic national team in front of us, and even though we played a great game at Wembley there are things we can improve.

“England had a fantastic World Cup. They have a lot of personality despite being very young, and offensively they are very dangerous.

Harry Kane is a very good player. We have to keep his scoring drought going because that will be a good sign for us.”

After England’s 0-0 draw with Croatia on Friday, Kane dismissed suggestions he needs a rest, saying he does not think his “game has dipped”.

While Ramos praised Kane, Spain coach Luis Enrique declared his admiration for England counterpart Gareth Southgate.

“I really like Gareth Southgate as a manager,” he said. “Maybe historically England haven’t always been playing possession football but Southgate likes to play with possession and he is someone I have always followed with curiosity.

“I really like the way he interprets football. I hope he won’t be lucky against us but I wish him luck every game after that.”

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Sevilla: The Surprise La Liga Leaders

 
Sevilla have known high and lows in a very short time span. From the exhilarating start to life under former coach Jorge Sampaoli back in the 2016/17 season, where the Andalusian club were briefly even considered outside shots for the title, last campaign brought with it three different coaches, three different ideas and ultimately three different ways of not hitting expectations. Sitting top of LaLiga after eight match days this time around, it is time to be optimistic once more.

After impressing at Girona during his first season in charge of a LaLiga outfit, Pablo Machin was an interesting appointment from Los Nervionenses. His work at the Catalan club could not be questioned, their promotion and subsequent top-half finish in the Spanish top flight were marvellous achievements, but there was still doubt about how his system and style would transfer over to a club like Sevilla.

At Girona, Machin championed a formation that deployed three central defenders at the back and provided wing backs for his side’s width. His attacking options had a certain amount of freedom, but their aim was to be a spring-loaded threat on the counter attack. Machin’s style brought the best out of the likes of Portu, Cristhian Stuani and Borja Garcia, who enjoyed terrific form in Primera in 2017/18, as the former duo scored goals at an incredible rate for a newly promoted side.

Rather than adapt his tactics to his new squad, Machin has employed the exact same framework in his early months as Sevilla boss. Using full backs or converted wingers as his width at wing back, the summer arrival of Andre Silva gave the Spaniard his Stuani-esque centre-forward option up front. Pablo Sarabia has continued his terrific form of the last year or so as a member of the supporting cast in attack, while the likes of Ever Banega, Franco Vazquez and Roque Mesa give Machin the most quality than he has had in central midfield during his managerial career to date.

Tomas Vaclik has been an inspired signing in goal, bringing a consistent, omnipresent reliability to a position which had been a problem area for months for Sevilla, while injuries to key defensive options Sergio Escudero and Gabriel Mercado haven’t shaken their side’s foundations too much. Daniel Carrico has returned from injury and slotted straight in at centre back, as Machin’s style looks to produce performances that are of a higher quality than the sum of his squad’s collective parts.

Sevilla’s 3-4-2-1 system can allow them to look after possession nicely when given an opportunity, but is similarly a great set up for counter-attacking football after absorbing pressure in tough games. Across eight league games, they have scored 18 goals, but more importantly Los Nervionenses have conceded just eight.

While Sevilla certainly don’t boast the meanest of defences, they have struck up a good balance between exploiting weak defences to romp to big victories, and having an organised system that can sit back and weather storms. Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder are enjoying their football and have a dozen goals between them in league action, while both Jesus Navas and Pablo Sarabia have offered four assists apiece from Sevilla’s right-hand side.

After initial doubts over whether Machin’s style would suit a higher-quality Sevilla squad, the last month has proven what organisation and consistency can do. While teams around them such as Real Madrid and Barcelona are struggling to rotate personnel and maintain a similar style and level of performance, Los Nervionenses already have a grasp of their best eleven and how to chop and change during congested weeks of fixtures. Starting their competitive action early in the qualifying stages of the Europa League has perhaps worked in their favour.

There may not be much in the way of unpredictability for Sevilla this season, as their coach believes in sticking steadfastly to his style of play and has clear successes to show for it. Inevitably, that will lead to some opposing tacticians finding a way to frustrate them across the course of a long season.

For now, however, Los Nervionenses are enjoying their football, scoring goals and have taken a huge confidence boost by heading into an international break at the summit of LaLiga. Recent weeks suggest that their positive run could stretch for a long while yet.

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