Iago Aspas: A striker lighting up La Liga
When La Liga is on the agenda, Barcelona and Real Madrid usually hog the limelight. Other times it's the Spanish giants' star players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. This season, however, a Celta Vigo striker is gaining some deserved attention. Iago Aspas has hit 15 goals in 21 games, making him the third-highest scorer in Spain's top division.
Now in his second stint at Celta Vigo, Aspas seems to improve with age. On La Liga's current top goal-scorer chart, the 30-year-old trails only Luis Suarez and Messi. The Uruguayan has struck 16 times while his Barca teammate leads the way with 20.
Aspas began his career in Celta's youth setup. He progressed through the ranks, joining the B team in 2006 before making his senior debut a year later.
By 2013, Aspas had made 153 appearances in all competitions for Celta, scoring 50 goals. Yet, despite the striker's commendable record in Spanish football, most Premier League followers will judge him from his time at Liverpool. After racking up only 15 games in 2013-14, he lasted little over a year at Anfield.
Aspas spent the following season at Sevilla before heading back to his routes. Rejoining Celta in 2015 is proving his best career choice to date.
Since returning to Balaidos, Aspas has found the net with regularity. Prior to this campaign, he managed 33 La Liga strikes in 67 matches. A goal ratio of almost 1 in 2 is decent for most forwards, particularly one playing for a mid-table side.
Aspas can be compared to well-known Brazilian attacker Hulk. The pair have similar styles, capable of playing either up top or on the wing. The Celta star is adept at counter-attacking, laying off passes and cutting inside to pose a threat. He possesses other fine qualities including finishing, dribbling, long shooting and taking direct free-kicks.
Juan Carlos Unzue took over Celta Vigo after being Barcelona's assistant for three years. The former goalkeeper was also Celta's number two before his time at the Nou Camp. His experience seems to be paying off. Despite a recent defeat to Alaves, Os Celestes sit eighth in La Liga. They have 16 games to overturn a one-point deficit and claim a Europa League spot.
Aspas will prove crucial in Celta's mission to climb the table. As well as improving over the past six months, the Spanish forward is taking a commanding role and continues to score at key moments. Four goals in the last three games shows he's in peak form.
Last October, Aspas delivered his most impressive performance of the season against Las Palmas. He bagged a hat-trick in a 5-2 away win. Only five other La Liga players have graced a game with three goals this campaign.
Aspas' impressive displays since returning to Celta have earned him selection for international duty. He has represented Spain seven times, scoring three goals. One strike came against England in a friendly at Wembley, which ended 2-2. The other two were put past Liechtenstein in an 8-0 drubbing during the 2018 World Cup qualification stage.
After demonstrating his prowess in front of goal at both club and international level, Aspas is expected to continue producing until the season's end. Can he overtake Suarez and Messi to claim the Pichichi Trophy? It's a difficult challenge, but one the Celta striker will thrive on.