New Liverpool signing Iago Aspas made his Reds debut on Saturday afternoon against Preston North End, and the young Spaniard marked it by scoring the Merseysiders’ final goal in a comfortable 4-0 win.
The recent £7 million arrival from La Liga’s Celta de Vigo started the club’s first preseason friendly of the summer at Deepdale only as a substitute, with Italy international Fabio Borini given the nod ahead of him to start the match in a lone front role by head coach Brendan Rodgers.
However, the 25-year-old came on after half-time with the visitors already 2-0 in front thanks to goals from Philippe Coutinho—via the penalty spot—and Jordon Ibe to make an immediate impression thanks to an eye-catching, second-half display for his new team.
And Aspas’ 45-minute cameo will be the one major positive which Rodgers and his coaching staff will have taken from this first run out of the summer. It was, in effect, an audition between himself and Borini for the role of replacing want-away front man Luis Suarez up front for Liverpool next season.
The controversial Uruguay playmaker was not on show at Preston after being given extra time off following his exertions for his country in last month’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Although what will be of more concern to the Reds’ manager at this present time will be the continued absence of yet another forward player, with striker Daniel Sturridge also absent on Saturday. He continues his rehabilitation from the ankle ligament injury that he sustained playing for England against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley in May.
All of which gives Aspas’ impressive contribution in the second period at Preston added meaning, with a potential starting place against Stoke City at Anfield in the Premier League opener on Saturday, Aug. 17 now very much up for grabs.
Firstly, the new Reds No. 9 linked up well with wide man Raheem Sterling, another player returning from injury against the League One side, with the duo’s quick interchange of passes carving open the home team’s back four to allow the England international to make it 3-0 with 25 minutes left to play.
And then Aspas capped off a fine all-round performance by scoring the best goal of the afternoon on 75 minutes, taking his time before curling an unstoppable 25-yard left-footed effort past a helpless Thorsten Stuckmann in the Preston goal.
Initially when Rodgers brought the Spaniard to Merseyside, he envisaged utilising the forward in one of the two wide attacking positions next season as part of his more favoured 4-3-3 lineup.
However, those plans are rapidly changing by the day in light of the continued doubts surrounding Suarez’s future at the club and Sturridge’s ever-reducing hopes of now being fit for the start of the new campaign.
In effect, Aspas could even now line up as the sole front man against the Potters next month. His wonder strike on Saturday will have done both his confidence, and those chances of beginning the 2013/14 season in the starting XI, the power of good.
Conversely, if against all odds Suarez does remain at Anfield this summer after all, and Sturridge makes a faster than expected recovery from injury, then Aspas also ably demonstrated at Deepdale that he could still be one of Rodgers’ main attacking weapons from the bench in the coming months.
And that is where the forward’s versatility should come in extremely handy, with the new recruit able to play in a number of different roles up front for the Reds—a fact the player himself alluded to just after joining the club.
“I've not had the chance to talk with the manager at any length just yet, but I think that good players can slot into any role and not just one set position,” said Aspas, via Liverpoolfc.com.
But whether it be as a wide forward supplying assists—seven of which he laid on for Celta teammates in the league last season—up top as a lone front man or even in the “hole” off a fellow striker, on this evidence Aspas has the required capabilities and technique to be an effective weapon coming off the bench next season.
And after the full-time whistle, Rodgers was full of praise for the Spaniard, telling LFC TV (via the club’s official website, Liverpoolfc.com):
Iago works hard; he's got a trick in and around the box and he excites supporters. He's a good guy and he works very hard for the supporters.
He drifts well in between the lines and always wants to receive the ball. But what I like is that he wants to score goals. He's looking to create and combine or go solo by himself and get a shot in. His goal was a terrific strike.
So all in all, a good first day at the office for Liverpool front man Iago Aspas.
DOB: Aug. 1, 1987
Place of birth: Moana, Spain
Transfer fee: £7m
Contract: Undisclosed, but long term