Iago Aspas: How The Liverpool Reject Became a Vital Cog in the Celta Vigo Machine

Iago Aspas: How The Liverpool Reject Became a Vital Cog in the Celta Vigo Machine

The summer transfer window is a mere spec in the distance and yet the saga involving Antoine Griezmann and a potential transfer to Manchester United feels like it has been around since the dawn of time.

Major transfers can sometimes start a domino effect and if the Frenchman decides to swap Madrid for Manchester this summer it has been rumoured that Iago Aspas has already been chosen as his replacement.

It would be another fascinating step in career filled with peaks and troughs culminating in Aspas becoming the focal point for Celta Vigo.

Whilst Celta fans cheer Aspas he is not remembered with the same sentiment in Liverpool. The Galician is best known for producing a corner in the dying embers of Chelsea’s two nil victory over Liverpool, which effectively killed off the reds title ambitions, that was so awful it became viral and is the most watched footage of Aspas in a Liverpool shirt.

That was the season in which Liverpool’s attacking trident of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez all blossomed under Brendan Rodger’s guidance. Liverpool came within touching distance of the Premier League title. For that reason Aspas was usually restricted to a bench warmer.

Aspas was 25 and was determined not to see his career waste away on the subs bench. After agitating for a move away from Merseyside he got his wish. In July 2014 he returned to his native Spain on loan for Sevilla.

After a year on loan at the Andalucian club the arrangement was made permanent and Sevilla wasted no time in selling Aspas on to the club where he made his name, Celta Vigo. As of June 2015 Aspas was back in Galicia.

His first year back in Vigo saw him score eighteen goals, and create five more for his teammates in all competitions. He was also pivotal in a game that will live in the memory of many Galicians, the 4-1 destruction of eventual Liga champions Barcelona at the Balaidos.

In the grand scheme of things this game was a celebration of Celta’s promise rather than the potential decline of a footballing behemoth. On the other hand, the Catalan team were far from their best which was exploited by Los Célticos. Aspas and Nolito ran riot with some beautiful goals. The more Barça pressed the easier it was for the smooth and slick counter-attacking machine of Celta to score. Aspas added to Nolito’s precise opener with a cheeky chip over Barcelona goalkeeper Marc André ter Stegen and made it three after a break from a corner in their own half.

In 2015/16 Celta finished sixth in La Liga, their highest finish in a decade, and most of it was down to the attacking brilliance of Nolito and Aspas.

During the aforementioned season Nolito hogged the spotlight as the press continued to focus on his potential return to Barça where he would have been reunited with former manager Luis Enrique. Nolito’s transfer was inevitable. When a team of Manchester City’s riches come calling with Champions League football and Pep Guardiola it’s almost impossible to say no.

The 2016/17 season started poorly with three straight losses in La Liga but once points were on the board thanks to consecutive victories over Gijon and Espanyol on the 21st and 25th of September respectively, another night for the ages awaited when Barcelona returned to the Balaidos seeking revenge.

The first twenty minutes were tight and cagey and it was Aspas who made the breakthrough with a perfectly weighted pass for Pione Sisto who side footed a shot into the far corner of Ter Stegen’s goal. The damage was done to Barcelona and just like the last time these two met in Vigo, Aspas and his team were devastating on the counter-attack.

Nine minutes later Luis Suarez was dispossessed in the Celta penalty area and within seconds Aspas was making Pique look like Djimi Traore by firing a low shot into the bottom corner of the net. 2-0 is the most precarious score line in football and with that in mind Celta went foraging for more goals. Only two minutes had passed when Jeremy Mathieu stuck out a leg under pressure from Aspas and inadvertently tucked it past Ter Stegen. It was 3-0 to Celta after 33 minutes.
The game ended 4-3 to Celta after Barcelona rallied late, but to no avail as the damage had already been done and Aspas was showing that there is life after Nolito.

If more proof was necessary then it arrived in the Copa del Rey. Having defeated Valencia 4-1 at the Mestalla, Celta were able to play a second string side for the home leg meaning their star striker Aspas could rest before their league game against Alaves and the first leg of the quarter final against European Champions Real Madrid.

Madrid had just tasted defeat for the first time this season and usually one would be concerned at angering the beast but Celta used Sevilla’s triumph as a blueprint for their victory. Defending in numbers with a deep line and breaking fast resulted in some less than attractive football. In the end it was Aspas who made the difference once again when he opened the scoring to silence the Madrid crowd.

What followed was a frantic six minutes of football. Marcelo equalised with a well-struck volley to atone for his bizarre flying backheel which had resulted in Aspas’ goal just before. However, from the kick off Lucas Vazquez dawdled by the centre circle and once the ball found its way to Aspas his pass set up Jonny Castro perfectly to gain an advantage and two invaluable away goals.

The return leg ended 2-2 and Celta reached the semi-finals but were defeated by Alaves.

Iago Aspas has already matched his total in the league this season for Celta and with a winnable tie in the last 16 of the Europa League against Krasnodar on the horizon you would be foolish to write them off in said competition. Especially considering some of the bigger teams are playing each other, and two of Schalke, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Roma and Lyon will be going home after the next round.

No one can be sure of how Aspas views his time in England but one thing that can be assumed is that he thoroughly enjoyed making his debut for the national team at Wembley. A half time substitute as a lacklustre Spain were two down to Gareth Southgate’s England, Aspas began the comeback with a fine finish from a tight angle to take his total tally for the season to nineteen.

No doubt many Liverpool fans were watching thinking “What if he had been given a real chance under Rodgers?” That is something we will never know but what we do know is that Iago Aspas is one of the best strikers in Spain.

He is currently ahead of potential Ballon d’Or winners Antoine Griezmann and Neymar in the goalscoring charts. So much so that without him Celta would be thirty points worse off since the beginning of last season.

The man known in England for that corner is perhaps better known in Spain for being the best Spanish striker around.

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