Diez Hijos: 10 La Liga breakthroughs, Part 2
Even though La Liga is (slowly) redistributing television revenues more equitably, its smaller clubs, those not named Real Madrid or Barcelona, have learned to maximise their academies. Many regularly produce top quality players who ply their trade across Europe. If you missed the first five in this list of ten Primera Division diamonds in the rough, you can find them here after checking out this promising quintet.
Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
Key stat: 1.8 key passes per 90, more than any Manchester United player.
The 20-year-old came through the ranks of Sociedad's youth-setup. The Spaniard lacks the pace so often valued today, but adroitly uses interplay with other central midfielders to unlock opposition defences. His footwork is top-notch and trickery world-class. The left-footer drives defenders crazy, often drawing fouls. His tendency to drift inwards then link up well with central midfielders brings to mind Leicester's Riyad Mahrez. As well, his decision-making and maturity on the pitch are well beyond his years.
He has been directly involved in 12 goals over 18 games this season. His command of play, even from the flanks, and superb touch on set-pieces has made him indispensible to Eusebio Sacristan's starting XI.
Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid)
Key stat: 2.7 tackles/90 both in Europe and Spain, significantly more than Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo.
With Dani Carvajal, one of the world's best right-backs,in Madrid's squad, the Moroccan La Fabrica graduate couldn't have expected much playing time if he tarried at the Santiago Bernabeu. Then Zinedine Zidane became manager, Carvajal was injured, and Danilo sold to Manchester City. The French legend's desire to divert from the galactico project allowed the 19-year-old to become the youngest squad player for Los Blancos this season. His crossing ability and ball retention have kept him there.
Hakimi features as a classic defensive full-back in La Liga, making 4.3 tackles and interceptions combined per 90. He also wins 56% of his aerial duels. In Europe, he transforms into an attacking dynamo. The defender creates a massive 2.5 chances per 90 on the UEFA stage. He has also shown his versatility by lining up as a left back with the Moroccan national side. The Atlas Lions have kept a clean sheet in all five games he has played, helping Herve Renard's team qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
The Merengues won't be in the market for a right back for quite some time.
Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo)
Key stat: nine assists, joint highest in Europe's top five leagues.
The Ugandan-born Danish international gained attention following FC Midtjylland’s fantastic 2-1 win over Manchester United. The 22-year-old's unpredictability in the final third confounds the best defenders. He always has a different move to pull, nor is he hesitant to shoot from difficult angles.
What makes Sisto such an interesting athlete is his dribbling ability. The diminutive Dane outmanoeuvres opposition's defenders with ease. He can come at you from either flank, or straight up the middle.
He joined the Spanish club in 2016 despite alleged interest from Manchester United. Sisto has a pass completion rate of 87% in the league and provides 1.5 key passes to his teammates every 90 minutes. He has a special understanding with Emre Mor, but has also struck for three goals himself.
Fabian Ruiz (Real Betis)
Key stat: completes three long balls per game, one more than Mesut Ozil.
The 21-year-old is a homegrown product. Like Paul Pogba, he excels at making key passes and providing long balls into the box. Ruiz was the heart of the midfield against Real Madrid in the famous win at the Bernabeu. The Spaniard put in a dramatic shift in the middle of the park. Pogba lives to take on defenders. Ruiz loves layoffs. He will dribble past defenders, like the Frenchman, and go for the glory alone from distance, to boot.
Another memorable performance followed his Madrid epic, when he scored and grabbed one of his three assists against Levante. His pass completion rate is about 87%, mirroring David Silva. Fabian seems destined for a fabulous career with a top club.
Rodri Hernandez (Villareal)
Key stat: 2.5 tackles per 90, emulating personal idol Sergio Busquets.
The U21 Spanish midfielder is showing his senior skills.The deep-lying midfielder spent six years at Atletico Madrid's academy before joining Villareal in 2013. He has a distinctly Claude Makelele-esque aesthetic. His defensive command is astronomical, managing 4.2 tackles and interceptions per 90, and 2.6 clearances. He can get the ball moving, too, sporting a 90% of pass completion rate in both La Liga and Europe.
Hernandez is another who prefers direct play. Wingers and strikers look forward to being on the end of one of his five long balls per 90. He is a perfect defensive midfielder. At 6'2", the Spaniard attempts 4 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 70%. He also has the physical strength to deal with muscular strikers.
The Rojiblancos appear intent on bringing him back to the Wanda Metropolitano.