After Celta survived relegation, the Balaídos crowd surrounded Aspas, their hero, in jubilation—he had created the decisive goal in the 1-0 victory over Espanyol.
Iago Aspas, grazas! pic.twitter.com/i9P0LMYQvK— Cazorla (@JorgeCazorla7) June 2, 2013
As he sobbed uncontrollably, not only had he played his last game for his boyhood club, he knew he was leaving the community atmosphere in Vigo—a team whose supporters' club is named after him, the Peña Iago Aspas.
Sid Lowe at The Guardian documented how close the fans were to Aspas:
In the peña, they could hardly love Iago Aspas more.
He is Celta's best, most technically gifted player. He is also one of them.
He is a self-declared "celtista until I die" and anti-deportista who says he'd never sign for Depor nor get a girlfriend from Coruña [Deportivo is to Celta what Everton is to Liverpool].
In a season which defined Aspas' career, it also vindicated my former colleague, Michael Cerna, who predicted the forward's La Liga success during preseason.
"Aspas is obviously a gifted passer and scorer, but doing what he does while on the move is what makes him so dangerous," Cerna tells me via email.
Espanyol right-back Javi López is caught out of position and his teammate, Diego Colotto, a centre-back, covers him.
Aspas identifies the mismatch, receives the ball on the left flank, gets past Colotto with a routine La Croqueta move, and provides the key assist for Natxo Insa.
This is the quick-thinking from Aspas that Cerna is referring to.
"I’ve been disappointed in the way Brendan Rodgers has treated Andy Carroll," says former English international Mark Hateley, via The Daily Mail.
Carroll is slow, one-dimensional and technically inadequate—the antithesis of what Rodgers seeks in a player, hence why Liverpool are saying adiós to Carroll and hola to Aspas.
It's incorrect to call the Spaniard a centre-forward or a centre attacking midfielder because he's a deep-lying forward with the freedom to roam just like Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale.
Aspas creates 30.4 percent of his chances out wide and like South Korean striker Heung-Min Son, is always a threat on the counter.
"Aspas is extremely intelligent and has superb positional awareness," says Cerna.
In the 2-0 win over Osasuna, Aspas positioned himself perfectly to head home Augusto Fernández's cross, whilst four Osasuna players watched on.
Constructively Criticising Aspas
- 60.7 percent of his passes go backward yet his 77.3 passing completion percentage is mediocre (6.9 percent lower than the Liverpool average; 84.2).
- Cerna touched upon this, saying: "Aspas really isn't a big enough risk taker when it comes to passing in the final third."
- Aspas only scored once in five combined league games versus Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
- Aspas' four-game ban for headbutting Carlos Marchena brought to light his chequered history with discipline.
- In past seasons, he had received red cards against Granada, Real Betis and Real Sociedad—he accumulated a second yellow card four minutes after his first versus La Real.
- Here's an anecdote by Lowe depicting Aspas' impulsiveness, via The Guardian:
Aspas recalled how he missed out on being included in the squad for the first time after being sent off for the youth team for a stray elbow.
As if that was not bad enough, the game he missed was against Deportivo at Riazor.
"I cried for days over an act of stupidity that lasted five seconds," he said.
- Aspas misplaced 39 and 35 percent of his passes in two La Liga losses versus Atléti, games where he noticeably struggled when being pressured.
Is Aspas Luis Suárez's Replacement?
Suárez scored 49 goals for Ajax the season prior to joining Liverpool.
He came to the Reds as a world-class player, whereas Aspas doesn't have a body of work to suggest he can be a viable replacement for Suárez.
Though, Aspas has been Celta's answer to Suárez, essentially carrying the Spanish club over the line.
50% - Only Lionel Messi (52%) has scored/assisted a higher proportion of his team's goals than Iago Aspas (50%) in La Liga this term. Target— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 29, 2013
Cerna believes Aspas is not as dominant centrally as Suárez.
"Saying that Aspas is not on Suárez's level should not be considered a major hit against him," says Cerna. "Using Aspas out wide, but letting him have complete control of his range and positional roaming would make Liverpool extremely dangerous."
A reported £7.7 million for a high IQ footballer with world-class technique in Aspas is taking advantage of a financially weak La Liga market—Liverpool have just signed a poor man's Suárez.
Allan Jiang is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via email interview.
Michael Cerna, former B/R La Liga columnist, email interview conducted on June 4, 2013.