Iago Aspas: Where Did It All Go Wrong for the Spanish Striker at Liverpool?

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Iago Aspas: Where Did It All Go Wrong for the Spanish Striker at Liverpool?
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Iago Aspas in action for Liverpool last season against Manchester United.

Last month, Iago Aspas departed Liverpool for Sevilla with an initial loan for 2014/15 set to be made permanent if the La Liga side offer £5 million for the striker next summer, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo.

Thus ends a tumultuous time for the 27-year-old former Celta Vigo man on Merseyside, with Aspas failing to impress in the Premier League last season.

The Spaniard definitely has claims to being the Reds’ worst ever No. 9, perhaps recognition to be shared with the deplorable El Hadji Diouf.

However, it is fair to argue that Aspas wasn’t given enough of a chance in a Liverpool shirt, and this departure brings to a close a somewhat mysterious spell under Brendan Rodgers.

Where did it all go wrong?

 

Pre-Season

It is commonly regarded that, having joined the Reds earlier in the summer, Aspas was one of the stars of the 2013/14 pre-season.

This was particularly apparent as the striker started in Steven Gerrard’s testimonial game against Olympiakos in August.

At times a tepid affair, Liverpool bullishly ground out a 2-0 victory at Anfield, with goals coming from Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson.

Within the first 25 minutes, Aspas swiftly ran his opposing defenders ragged, flicking his way through the Greek side’s defence one moment, then supplying Allen with what should have been the easiest of finishes with a cheeky back-heeled cross.

The striker eventually turned provider with a teasing cross-goal ball, with the Welshman gladly accepting the spoils at the second time of asking.

Exiting the fray on the hour mark, Reds fans were nicely surprised by this relative unknown.

The captain even saved special praise for the Spaniard after the game (h/t Goal.com), telling reporters “[Aspas has] got little bits of magic and he’ll certainly strengthen the squad, he’s still very young but you can see the talent there.”

These flashes continued throughout pre-season, and it seemed that Liverpool had a bargain on their hands—ample back-up for the maverick Luis Suarez.

 

Stu Forster/Getty Images
Aspas never really got started at Liverpool.

2013/14

However, things went sour quickly for the Spaniard, as the 2013/14 Premier League season began in earnest for Liverpool.

Starting the first three games in the suspended Suarez’s absence, Aspas failed to impose himself on the physical style of play English football is renowned for.

Despite this, the Reds won each of these encounters 1-0.

The 26-year-old started only two more league games for the Reds last season, in the 1-0 loss to Southampton in September and the 2-0 victory over Hull City in the second half of the season.

Overall, Aspas featured in 380 Premier League minutes for the Reds, scoring zero goals and making one assist over 14 appearances, per WhoScored.com.

In the striker’s defence, negotiating a first-team squad featuring the supreme goal-scoring talents of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, with 54 league goals between them, would have been a formidable feat for any player in world football.

Furthermore, a promising display against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup Third Round and a decent showing in the post-season friendly against Shamrock Rovers showed what the striker could do without a weight on his shoulders.

However, it is evident that Aspas wasn’t quite cut out for the Premier League, at least in such meagre doses—with little time to pick up the tempo of the game.

The writing was on the wall, ostensibly at least, following a dismal attempt at a corner as the Reds were chasing an equaliser in May’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at Anfield.

 

Rodgers vs. Committee?

It does remain bizarre, however, that despite clearly showing his quality in pre-season, against varied opposition, Aspas wasn’t given a fair rub of the green in the Premier League under Rodgers.

Perhaps the most pertinent display of the striker's treatment at Liverpool can be seen in his advice, reportedly given to current Reds target Alberto Moreno, per ESPN.

If it's a question about quality of life, I would say that Sevilla is better than being there, that's for sure...And I have only been at Sevilla three or four days but now I belong to Sevilla, I would prefer him to stay here.

Naturally, as mentioned above, Rodgers couldn’t leave out either Suarez or Sturridge due to their insatiable form.

But there were times, with Liverpool several goals ahead and cruising, that the Ulsterman could have introduced his exiled striker as a means to boost confidence.

Who knows what a few goals could have done for Aspas?

With some players, exile is due to efforts, or lack of, on the training. However Aspas’ application was never in doubt.

According to the Liverpool Echo in April, Rodgers spoke of his “utmost respect” for the striker, saying “[Suarez and Sturridge’s form] has never stopped Iago working well every day in training. He has never given up the fight.”

Perhaps this was a player that Rodgers never really wanted in the squad.

Much is made of the Moneyball technique employed by Liverpool’s owners, FSG, to establish transfer targets.

As such, there is an oft-circulated debate as to whether particular Reds signings are Rodgers’ choice or that of the club’s transfer committee.

Aspas was a player in particular who, when signing for the club, was referred to as an FSG-style signing.

The striker's abilities were statistically compared to other La Liga players of the calibre of Lionel Messi, such as via Allan Jiang for Bleacher Report.

However, facets such as chances created, shots on target and successful dribbles can only portray one side of a player’s game—this needs to be paired with other aspects such as physique, personality and intelligence.

This is where, perhaps, Rodgers and the committee disagreed—the Northern Irishman is a firm believer in the mental attributes of his charges.

With the Reds looking to more wholly functional, widely-renowned targets, such as a failed pursuit of Alexis Sanchez, Aspas may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of a primarily Moneyball-style approach to talent acquisition.

On the whole, surely, it can be agreed that the departure of Iago Aspas is for the best—particularly with Liverpool progressing as they are—but for now the Spaniard’s exile remains a mystery.

 

Was Iago Aspas given a fair shot under Rodgers at Liverpool? Please discuss in the comments below.

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