“I just hope Barcelona don’t try to sign him!” jested Ernesto Valverde when asked about veteran striker Aritz Aduriz. The 34 year old is in his third spell with the historic Basque club and has enjoyed an incredibly prolific three years back in the red and white stripes of Athletic Club.

This season he has hit a magnificent 20 goals in 20 appearances, which is more than Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Incredibly, this season Aduriz looks sharper, fitter and stronger than ever when many critics had tipped the Spaniard to become a victim of age after a stellar season last year.

Returning to the starting line-up for the Supercopa tie against Barcelona, he hit a magnificent hat-trick to steer Athletic to their first silverware in over 30 years. In fact, he played so well that Barcelona fans applauded him as he raised the trophy. There is a notion that this was partly down to the fact that both Catalunya and the Basque region both want independence from Spain and have formed a kinship, but we’ll stick to the romanticism for now.

Aduriz’ relationship with the Spanish national team has been a strange one. Initially called up during 2010 when he was with Valencia, Aduriz never had the chance to impress Del Bosque, only making a fleeting substitute appearance against Lithuania. Ironically, Aduriz was playing second fiddle to Fernando Llorente the very player he replaced at Athletic. Del Bosque, as is well documented, is a fiercely loyal man who trusts the core members of his squad to the hilt, and clearly Aduriz did not offer enough for Del Bosque to trust him. This would explain why so many of those who failed in Brazil two years ago still feature in the squad today.

However, in those two years Aduriz has taken over the spot off Spain’s premier striker from a certain Brazilian-turned-Spaniard, Diego Costa. This term Costa has failed to hit the back of the net on a number of occasions and also failed to hit Jose Mourinho with a bib. Despite this, and Aduriz registering 80 goals in three calendar seasons, which brings him on to 111 goals for Athletic, he has largely been ignored by Del Bosque. Instead, debuts have been given to Paco Alcacer, Alvaro Morata and Nolito in a bid to solve Spain’s centre-forward crisis.

Should Aduriz continue to out-perform the rest of the Spanish squad, then Del Bosque will almost certainly be tempted to hand him his first cap in five years. Despite fans calling for Aduriz’ return Del Bosque has so far resisted, being quoted as saying that reports of a call up “remain speculation [until he is with the squad]”.

This weekend the irrepressible striker hit another stunning domestic hat-trick, this time against Rayo Vallecano. The perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot, header – which became his third of the season. Aduriz represents a package that can only be described as the complete striker; strength, height and athletic ability. But the underrated part of his game is his link-up play. So much of Athletic’s play comes from their front man and his ability to bring others into the game. Raul Garcia, finally, joined Athletic in the summer and his partnership with Aduriz is causing significant trouble for opposition defences, early signs are good for the pair. With Iker Muniain returning to full-fitness things are destined to get better.

Aduriz, though, presents a challenge for Athletic. Once his contract runs out at the end of next season, there is the almost insurmountable task of replacing the striker. Their reliance on his goals has propelled Athletic to the Champions League, final of the Copa del Rey and victory in the Supercopa over Barca. But for now, lets enjoy Aduriz in his stunning prime.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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La Liga Three to watch


Pace Alcacer 1

Paco Alcacer, Valencia

Spanish football has become famous for its almost ceaseless production line of diminutive, technical midfielders, but in Alcacer, they have managed to unearth one of the most promising young strikers on the continent.

The 21-year-old made his senior Valencia debut in 2010 having progressed through Los Che’s youth ranks. A loan spell at Getafe in 2012-13 served him well, with Alcacer returning a better and more experienced player. In the two seasons since then, the youngster has netted a respectable 17 La Liga goals in 43 starts, with seven strikes in 11 Europa League appearances in 2013-14 further evidence of his potential.

While Alcacer is a good finisher, his off-the-ball movement is arguably his best trait. Able to both drop deep and sprint in behind, the Valencia man has a knack for finding that vital yard of space even in the tightest of areas.

Valencia are back in the Champions League this season following a two-year absence, which gives Alcacer a chance to demonstrate his talent on the biggest stage of all. Though Nuno’s side have completed the permanent signing of Alvaro Negredo from Manchester City this summer, No. 9 Alcacer looks set to be Valencia’s main man up top this term.7



Aymeric Laporte 1Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Club supporters will have been delighted with the news that Laporte had extended his contract until 2019 in June, despite rumoured interest from the likes of English giants Manchester United. Should he replicate his recent performances again this term, though, the Basque side may find it difficult to resist bids from some of Europe’s top clubs in the years to come.

Laporte is an ultra-modern centre-half: strong in the tackle, quick across the ground and happy to bring the ball out of defence, the 21-year-old has all the qualities needed to play in the heart of the backline.

Having made 49 appearances in all competitions in 2014-15, Laporte is already an integral member of Ernesto Valverde’s squad. With Euro 2016 on the horizon, the Frenchman will be hoping that another successful campaign in La Liga could earn him his first senior cap and a place in his country’s squad as they host the competition in 10 months’ time; though Didier Deschamps’ France have the likes of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho to call upon, Laporte certainly has the ability to muscle his way in.



Sergi SamperSergi Samper, Barcelona

Samper has been linked with a move to Arsenal in recent weeks but looks set to stay at Camp Nou for the season ahead. The 20-year-old midfielder made four appearances for the treble-winning Barcelona first team last time out – three in the Copa del Rey and one in the Champions League – and will look to build upon that base in the months ahead, with Barca perhaps mindful that a complete lack of action could see him push for a move away.

Samper operates as a holding midfielder, a role that allows him to use his superb range of passing to dictate his side’s play and help control the tempo of game. He also has good awareness and positions himself well, vital attributes for someone deployed deepest in the engine room.

The strength of the options available to Luis Enrique makes it difficult to imagine Samper starting week in week out but, with the Catalans unable to field any new players until 2016, the midfielder could be called upon should Barcelona encounter any sort of injury crisis. Labelled by some as the long-term successor to Sergio Busquets, Samper certainly has the talent to make the step up.


About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.
Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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