Barring a disaster in La Anoeta for Real Sociedad against Lyon in a pre-qualifying second leg tie, four Spanish clubs are set to be participating in this year’s edition of the Champions League.
Last season’s smash hits, Malaga, are much-missed absentees this time around, but a truly brilliant campaign from the San Sebastian side sees La Real joining Real Madrid, Barcelona and a returning Atletico Madrid at Europe’s top table.
The previous campaign introduced the wider world to Real Madrid’s French defender, Raphael Varane, and Spanish playmaker, Isco. There is even more talent to be unearthed when the group stages get underway in what is set to be a classic Champions League contest.
Here are four footballers set to take the competition by storm and make very big names for themselves.
Alvaro Morata: Real Madrid
If there is one thing lacking at Real Madrid this season, it is out-and-out strikers. Footballers whose job it is to simply stick the ball in the back of the net as quickly as possible, rather than dither about with step-overs and cheeky back-heeled passes.
Whilst Karim Benzema is more than decent at this job, the Frenchman knows that he could easily be replaced by a young Spaniard who has been waiting a very, very long time for a proper go on Real Madrid’s first team.
The 20-year-old forward, who has the air of Fernando Morientes about him, made his league debut for Madrid back in December 2010, but it is only last season that Morata really made the breakthrough with 12 Primera appearances and two goals.
Whilst the Madrid-born poacher is adept at playing across the forward line, Morata’s strength and height is best used in the number 9 role, an area of the park that has a particularly strong supply line within the Real Madrid ranks.
Christian Tello: Barcelona
Breaking into Barcelona’s first team is not as easy for youth team players as is often thought. The Camp Nou club is not a charity looking to help out young footballers in need.
The list of those who have failed to make the leap from cantera to starting alongside Leo Messi is startlingly long—Andreu Fontas, Bojan Krkic, Isaac Cuenca, Jeffren and Nolito are just a few names of players that have so far failed to make the grade after graduating from La Masia.
Christian Tello has not only broken through this barrier of getting onto the first team, but is also finding a niche in an already stuffed to the brim forward line. The 22-year-old offers a bit of fire in the belly to Barcelona’s attack, a dose of directness and aggression that can sometimes be lacking at the Catalan club.
Arda Turan: Atletico Madrid
The playmaker’s hair stylings of the previous six months have been the most noticeable physical features of Atletico’s Turkish delight. The final part of last year’s storming campaign saw a hairdo that expanded high into the sky. Turan has kicked off this season with a beard that sparrows could live in.
Of course, the other noticeable feature about the midfielder is what a fantastic footballer the former Galatasaray player is. The Rojiblancos can have Falcao, Diego Costa, David Villa or whoever leading the line, but opponents know that the key to preventing these strikers getting a sniff of the ball is to watch the 26-year-old like a hawk.
A mountain of debt sees Atletico as very much a selling club. A great Champions League campaign for Turan could well lead to the fan favourite following in the footsteps of so many stupendous players that have left the Vicente Calderon of late.
Those posers will be “didn’t he used to play for us?”, “how did he get to be so good?” and “why on earth doesn’t he play for us now?”
The respective answers to those questions are “yes”, “a bit of patience” and “because he is not French and untested.”
After spells over the past seven years at Arsenal, Celta Vigo, Salamanca, Osasuna and West Bromwich Albion, Vela found a niche at Real Sociedad, a club where the Mexican has been for two seasons now.
It’s a team where the forward has also been exceptional. Vela popped in 12 league goals in the player’s first campaign in San Sebastian and followed that total up with 14 to push La Real into the Champions League places, last year.
The 24-year-old looks set for another superlative year in the Basque Country with two goals in two games already, and the promise of many more to come.