31st March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Not many would've predicted at this stage of the season that Iago Aspas would be in the top five in the La Liga goalscoring charts, ahead of some of the league's biggest stars in Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Neymar.
Aspas' sensational 15 strikes see him currently sitting in fourth place in the Pichichi race behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, in what's arguably been his finest season at the professional level. His form's been so impressive that Julen Lopetegui even handed him his debut for the Spanish national team back in November of last year. Indeed, his La Roja bow went onto to be a real fairytale occasion for the 29-year-old, as he scored after coming off the bench to instigate Spain's comeback 2-2 draw with England at Wembley.
In Celta Vigo's hotly contested Galician derby clash with Deportivo La Coruna, the Moana born star achieved another notable landmark by bagging the all-important winner, which held special significance, for it was his first ever goal at the Riazor in the derby.
This fierce encounter would also provide a glowing testament to what a tremendously integral component of Eduardo Berizzo's dynamic outfit he undoubtedly is. Aspas demonstrated so many of his qualities from the off, tormenting Depor via a combination of his physical and technical gifts, plus through his brilliant understanding with his teammates - especially with Daniel Wass.
Starting out as Celta's right winger, a role he's become rather familiar with, Aspas' capacity to be a threat both in behind and in front of the opposition backline ensured he was a major menace throughout.
Being a striker by trade, Aspas put his exceptional ability to time his runs beyond Depor's defence to great use to regularly manipulate Pepe Mel's stopping structure and create opening for his colleagues.
Fine examples of this arose when he'd perform astute switches with Celta trequartista, Wass. Wass would subsequently move to the right, and persistently drop deep to link play with Celta's holding midfielders and right back, Hugo Mallo, thus forcing his man to follow him. This left the channel in the right half space vacant, and Aspas didn't need a second invitation to exploit these openings, directing many of his runs into this zone.
In scenarios when Aspas himself dropped deep, he illustrated his competency with the ball at his feet by linking play intricately and weaving his way out of trouble with his unmistakable dribbling technique. Within Berizzo's offensive framework, the way he instructs his winger on the far side to shift over into their respective half space enables Celta to not only have a strong central presence but also gives the side heightened connectivity.
And Aspas duly adhered to his manager's instructions. By pushing across into more central areas when the ball was on the opposing flank, Aspas presented himself as an option to be a recipient of a pass from a half space switch or from one of his midfielders much more easily. Seeing as he was situated in an indented location, he improved his chances of retaining possession, for if he was out wide, the ball would have to travel a longer distance, thus giving the opposition more time to intercept.
Once in possession, he was now in a solid position to link play centrally with his fellow attackers. In addition, his infield occupation meant his fullback, Mallo, had vacant space to charge round the outside of him and make overlapping forward bursts.
Other aspects of his display that amplified his worth came in the form of his defensive intensity and his massive threat on the counter. But his most telling impact was his match winning 74th minute goal, where he used his instinctive movement inside the box to outfox his maker, Raul Albentosa, courtesy of a cunningly angled blindside run, to place his finish home coolly.
Berizzo was full of praise for his skillful attacker in his post match comments, explaining: "We were fortunate enough to have Aspas, who transforms everything that goes through his boots into a goal, which delivered us a goal that rewarded our effort."
The Argentine tactician then added: "He is a man who grew up here and who wants to wear the colors, who does not only play football for professionalism, but for passion and that shows in his way of playing.
"He is a team player. He is able to play as the central attacker, to play behind the nine or even in the midfield, as he's improved his game so much."
With Celta enjoying a fantastic season to date, which has seen them reach the Copa del Rey semi finals, currently sit in a commendable 11th place in the league and in with a real chance of winning the Europa League, Aspas looms as an integral figure in their quest to finish the season on a high.
You can bet the man who's the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga will be doing everything in his power to help his beloved Celta do just that.
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Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas: Scoring Whizz in 2016/17 La Liga
31st March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.