‘We’re non-conformists’: Iago Aspas wants to upset the balance as La Liga’s top sides all face strugglers

Barring a dramatic collapse, it’s becoming very evident that Real Madrid will be replacing city rivals Atletico as champions of Spain this season, while the race for Champions League spots is also now seeing a gap develop.

Barcelona, ​​Atleti and Sevilla are all level on points, 12 adrift of Los Blancos but also four ahead of Real Betis and six clear of Real Sociedad. The big four are remaining the big four it seems, despite some exceptional showings from the potential challengers.

While the status quo is almost set at the top, they still have much to offer in what’s left of the season in La Liga – including a huge impact at the other end of the table.

This coming weekend, Spain’s top four sides all play sides in the bottom seven, all either in the relegation zone or within six points of it.

While matters look most dire for Alaves and Levante at the bottom, 13th to 18th is separated by only seven points and with inconsistency paramount in most of those sides, at least one great escape could certainly yet occur – particularly if there’s a shock result or two against the top four sides along the way.

Champions League places might be all but sewn up, but behind them there could yet be a real scrap developing, with a surprise name aiming to barge their way into the frame.

With eight matches to play, Celta Vigo have just one game left against a side higher than eighth in the league table.

It would require a greater consistency than they have always been able to show this season if they are to make up the eight or nine points between themselves and the top seven or eight, but iconic forward Iago Aspas is insistent they are keen to challenge for a European spot this term.

Club president Carlos Mouriño recently detailed to these pages how the Galician club are trying to sustainably grow as a regular top-flight team with improving prospects, with Aspas’ words – both on this season and beyond – a further indication of a side with a plan .

Indeed, the former – albeit briefly – Liverpool and Sevilla attacker already has an idea of ​​what’s next and, given his style of play and leadership qualities, perhaps it’s not a surprise that his plan for his next career involves more analysis and planning than day- to-day coaching.

“We have a great academy, we’ve always had great players [come through]. Celta’s model with the academy has been one step ahead of others for Galicia,” Aspas said on a call with The Independent and other media.

“I’ve lived here for many years, I feel the badge is part of me – that’s how it gets the best out of me. It makes it easier to show my talent. I joined the elite late, at 25, but I had experience within me and have put a lot of importance on the way I play.

“I’ve always said I’m interested in sports management, loved football from an analytics point of view and to improve the way I play. When I was younger I always played manager games, the older people know what I’m talking about! But I don’t know yet, maybe tomorrow I’ll retire and I’ll be out on the pitch helping colleagues as a coach I don’t know. But today, what’s interesting is to be a scout or sports director.

“Since Carlos Mouriño has been on board we’ve gone from difficult times to one of the healthiest clubs in LaLiga today, our finances are great. We’ve been in the first division a long time, we have our Academy model – it’s a success and will help us make a great leap forward too.

“We’re non-conformists, we always want to win and improve our position.”

On his time in England, where Aspas played at Anfield in 2013/14 under Brendan Rodgers, the forward acknowledges that his impact was limited, but points to the attacking quality on show at the time.

(Liverpool F.C. via Getty Images)

That campaign saw the Reds embark on an unlikely title challenge, ultimately falling just short, though he played only 15 times that year and scored just eleven. A loan back to Spain and Sevilla followed, before a permanent deal to return to Celta in 2015.

Aspas has only positives about his decisions to recount, particularly as they eventually led to the fulfillment of a huge career ambition.

“I had a leap forward to go to Liverpool – in the UK it’s like Real Madrid. The season I went we weren’t in Europe but it’s a big club with a lot more resources.

“I didn’t play as much as I wanted to but there are always good times – [Luis] Suarez, [Raheem] Sterling had great seasons and we were fighting to win the league.

“I had lots of expectations in pre-season and did quite well but I didn’t have too many minutes to play. So I thought it was better to take a step back to LaLiga and play football with my people. That has come to be good for me, I played and scored at the World Cup – one of my biggest dreams.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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