Scouting La Liga: Potential January Targets for Premier League Clubs of All Sizes
As the January transfer window approaches, the thoughts of Premier League clubs inevitably turn to potential reinforcements. Here are a few La Liga standouts at various price points who may be of interest, either now or next summer.
At the top end of the market, Real Betis wing-back Júnior Firpo is reported to be attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City. With a €50 million release clause, he is unlikely to come cheap.
The question is: how much is a potentially top class left-back worth?
A wide forward converted into a full-back partly because he struggled to dribble effectively from a standing start, Firpo combines natural attacking instincts with physical attributes that allow him to cover a lot of ground and compete well defensively.
His contribution of 0.20 xG + xA per 90 is the eighth highest of any La Liga full-back or wing-back with more than 500 minutes of action to their name. On the other side of the ball, he makes a solid number of tackles and interceptions and is fairly sturdy in blocking progress when players try to take him on.
Tactically, he has managed to prosper at wing-back under the very specific demands of Quique Setién’s heavily possession-based approach since making his first-team debut in February. A goal and assist in Betis’ 4-3 victory over Barcelona at the Camp Nou earlier this season further raised his profile.
At 22, and with less than a full season of top-flight football behind him, there are still some raw edges there, but his current numbers and the general consensus seem to agree that this is a player with the attributes to become one of the best in his position.
Borja Iglesias has had to work hard to get his shot at the top flight. He failed to make the grade at Villarreal, and made just one, 11-minute cameo for Celta Vigo’s first team during his four years there. But after 34 goals for Celta’s B team in the Spanish third tier, followed by 22 more on loan at Real Zaragoza in the Segunda División last season, he has made a much more lasting impression on the Primera División at Espanyol.
Among players to have seen at least 500 minutes of action, Iglesias lies second in La Liga in terms of xG per 90 (0.61), and third in combined xG and xA (0.74), behind only Lionel Messi and Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder.
His is the shot chart of classic centre-forward getting into prime positions inside the area, a profile he also fits physically and in his all-round play. He has been impressive to date, even as certain reminders as to why it has perhaps taken him until his mid-twenties to secure regular top-flight action -- a certain looseness in his touch and rashness in getting off shots -- have occasionally surfaced.
The question for potential suitors is whether this is simply a purple patch for a confident striker placed into a system that is functioning well and making the very most of his attributes or whether Iglesias, approaching 26, is capable of maintaining this kind of output for a further three or four seasons. If the answer is the latter, his €28 million release clause would look pretty tempting.
Fernando Pacheco has been one of the most impressive goalkeepers in La Liga since ascending to the top flight with Alavés ahead of the 2016-17 season. Last season, the Real Madrid youth product prevented six more goals than the average goalkeeper would have been expected to given the quality of the shots he faced. And this season, he ranks third in La Liga in terms of GSAA% (Goals Saved Above Average as a percentage of Shots Faced), having let in five less goals than expected.
At 26, Pacheco is still relatively young for a goalkeeper, and he is also attractively priced. His release clause stands at €40 million, but reports earlier this year suggested Alavés would be willing to listen to offers from €12 million upwards as they already have a viable long-term replacement in the form of Spain Under-21 international Antonio Sivera.
Stylistically, potential suitors would have to bear in mind that Pacheco is fairly passive in terms of coming out to claim high crosses (something that has been evident since his younger days) and otherwise advancing from his goal to cut out danger. Our model also suggests he is pretty average in terms of positioning, although that is something that good coaching and astute use of analytics could potentially improve.
Sevilla and Real Sociedad have previously shown interest. Perhaps it is time for Premier League clubs to enter the fray.
If you’re on a budget and need a physically solid and technically adept two-way midfielder, Joan Jordán should certainly be somewhere near the top of your shopping list.
The completeness of Jordán’s radar is partly a function of his versatility. His minutes so far this season have been spread across a variety of midfield roles. But it is also indicative of a player with the necessary attributes to do his fair share of defensive work, competently progress the ball forward on the pass or the dribble and also provide a decent goal contribution. Last season, he notched five non-penalty goals and two assists; this season, he already has two of each off of 1.44xG and 2.02xA.
The 24-year-old has one more feather to his cap. He leads La Liga in Set-Piece xG Assisted per 90.
Eibar paid just €1 million (plus variables) to sign Jordán from Espanyol in the summer of 2017, and while his release clause was never announced publicly, it is unlikely to be out of the reach of Premier League clubs.
Other Potential Targets
Getafe midfield Mauro Arambarri has been a pressing monster so far this season. Could he improve his passing statistics in a different setup?
Real Valladolid centre-back Fernando Calero has been linked with Arsenal after an impressive start to his debut top-flight season. Our center back radars provide more of a stylistic overview than an assessment of quality. On that basis, for good or bad, he profiles similarly to Johnny Evans.
Raúl de Tomás was prolific in the Segunda División at Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano, and the 24-year-old, Real Madrid loanee, at one time considered the jewel of their youth system, has handled the step up to the Primera pretty well. On a struggling team, RDT is getting off over three shots per match and producing a very solid combined 0.42 xG + xA per 90. How would that scale on a better team?