Welcome back to another set of transfer dossiers. To those who are new to this series, you can check up on the German targets here, plus France part 1 (including Payet, Mollo, and Cabella) and and part 2 (including Ben Yedder, Alessandrini, and Boudebouz). The point of this series is to use statistics to help unearth excellent players that you might have never heard of before. By focusing on certain key metrics, it becomes possible to see players with high levels of potential well before they become stars, which in turn means you can sometimes find superb bargains in the transfer market.
The end of this piece includes a review of Liverpool target Iago Aspas, but first we’ll look at the guy who lead La Liga in Schrodinger’s Goals this season… Name: Ivan Rakitic
Position: Attacking Mid
Potential Buyers: Any Champions League team or contender that needs an excellent attacking midfielder.
Rakitic finished tied with Mesut Ozil for the league lead in Key Passes in La Liga this year. His passing percentage isn’t as good as Ozil’s and he doesn’t have the same firepower on the end of his passes as the German, but when it came to setting up teammates to potentially score, Rakitic was godly.
The other thing to really like here is the tidiness in possession. Only 2.3 Disp/Trn combined per game, despite the fact that he saw a touch over 50 passes a game, is good for an attacker. While the passing numbers aren’t perfect, he’s not going to bury possessions again and again by losing the ball, which is important.
His shooting could be a little better – throughout his career he’s been a little loose with getting the ball on the frame – but he’s shown an outstanding ability to pass throughout his career as well, getting 3G/8A in 23 starts for Schalke at the young age of 21. Despite the high levels of performance at a young age, Sevilla bought him from the German club for just 2.2M in 2011. The passing ability is real and has been sustained through his career. Someone needs this guy, they just haven’t figured it out yet.
The problem is that most clubs in England are set for attacking midfielders, especially at the top end. Therefore he’d either need to go back to the Bundesliga, upgrade clubs in Spain, or go to one of the French juggernauts to get CL playing time. At this point, I doubt anyone in Italy can really afford him.
Oh, and he scored a goal this year by blocking a keeper clearance with his ass. So he’s got that going for him.
Likely price: £16-18M
Team: Deportivo la Coruna
Potential Buyers: Champions League teams who want a pacey wing forward or inverted wing who is an exceptional passer. So basically everybody except Manchester City. Assuming Arsenal are serious about selling Gervinho, and Dortmund's Podolski interest is real, he would make an excellent addition to the left side of their attack.
23 years old. Third in the league for Key Passes behind Ozil and Rakitic. Can dribble. Successful pass rate of 81%. Reasonable turnover numbers and he put 44% of his shots on goal this season. He uses both feet regularly, takes set pieces, and even crosses well.
All for a team that was relegated.
Pizzi is a monster.
Likely price: It looks like he’s owned at least in part by Braga from Portugal, but as with most Portuguese players, you have no idea who really owns what or how much things might cost in the end. For a young player of this calibre £12-15M is probably in the ballpark, but any number would not surprise me.
Name: Patrick Ebert
Potential Buyers: Lower table gamblers.
Ebert has actually been listed on some La Liga teams of the season, and his numbers are strong while playing for a team that simply wasn’t very good. I could wish for better passing numbers, but 13 G+A in only 22 starts is exceptional.
Look at those appearance numbers. I checked his injury history on Transfermarkt and it is looooong. And scary. Three different instances of ruptured ligaments in five years! Valladolid were clever in that they only signed him to a two-year contract, mitigating their risk. On the other hand, he only has a year left on his contract.
When healthy, Ebert is really quite good. The problem is that he’s never healthy for a whole season. If I’m signing him, I do the same thing Vallodolid did and either run a short deal (2-3 years) or a low base rate with considerable appearance fees and incentives.
Likely price: £1.5M
Team: Atletico Madrid
Position: Versatile midfielder
Potential Buyers: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Dortmund – just about any CL team not named Bayern Munich. You know how the Liverpool fans feel about Philippe Coutinho? Like how some of them compare watching Coutinho throughballs to having sex? (Who am I to say they are wrong?)
Koke has that exact same ridiculous passing skill set.
I haven’t finished doing all of the reviews yet, but I’m reasonably certain this is the best U21 attacking midfielder in Europe not named Mario Gotze. He doesn’t dribble like Gotze (who averages 3 per game), and he’s not scoring like Gotze yet, but he’s usually positioned further away from the attack than Gotze and everything else matches up well. Plus, Atletico weren’t nearly as good as Dortmund this season.
Passes and key passes are outstanding. He’s good at tackling, crossing, and can play basically anywhere in the midfield. Because he’s so versatile, it’s an open question of exactly where on the pitch is his best position, but man is he good.
Remember the name.
Likely price: £25M, if Atletico sell. I would guess they know exactly how good he is and will hang on to him for a good long while.
Name: Iago Aspas
Team: Celta Vigo
Potential Buyers: Liverpool? I looked at Aspas briefly when the link with Liverpool was first announced, and I was on the fence, so I decided to look a little deeper.
The NP column is non-penalty goals per 90. Aspas scored two penalties this season with Celta, which drops his goal rate under .33, which isn’t impressive. That said, he scored those 10 for a team that was nearly relegated, which means he might perform a lot better on a better team. Shots on Target% is pretty good, but it took him a lot of shots to actually create a goal. All of this correlates strongly to my initial meh reaction.
On the other hand, he scored 23 in 35 matches in Segunda the year before at age 24. That is a good goal rate, especially if the average drop-off from Segunda to La Liga is similar to what you get from the Championship to the Premier League.
Likely price: ESPN is reporting the deal is for £7.7M and will be finished this week. If you think his goal return will be more like his Segunda season, then it’s a good buy. If you think it will be more like this past year, it’s pretty indifferent and there are better candidates available. Liverpool’s scouting department found Coutinho last year, so I’m going to cut them some slack on this one.