Together, they have garnered 16 of Celta’s 22 goals this season. Outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona, no team in La Liga has scored more collectively than them. Nolito, Fabian Orellana and Iago Aspas – the all-action trident – are Spain’s best, worst kept secret.

To visit Balaidos at present day is to step into a cyclone of relentless, for-the-throat football, and the newly acquainted trio are the main proprietors. Through the season’s opening ten games, their handy work has seen Celta rise to become one of Europe’s most free-scoring teams; and ostensibly, the cheapest to assemble. Only eight clubs on the continent boast a better goals-per-game ratio than Eduardo Berizzo’s men, and even then, it is a grouping populated by the title chasers in Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

The Galicians have been known as one of La Liga’s hushed jewels for a number of seasons already, but their perception is in the midst of further change. Instead of being wildcards capable of an upset when the dog has its day, Celta are now taking on all comers without as much as a backward step; largely in part to their newfound attacking production. Even the reigning treble winners Barcelona couldn’t stand the heat on their recent trip.

On that particular evening in September, Nolito scored the first, before setting up Aspas either side of half time to make it three. Orellana didn’t score or assist, but dribbled the champions into oblivion, as Celta put an historic four past the Catalans.

It stands as the worst defeat of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona tenure.

The pertinent aspect of that win, however, was that Barcelona had not been caught cold. Even though it was somewhat of a coming out party for Celta in the new season, their threat had been well aired in the media beforehand, who billed it as the night when Barcelona could well be dispatched.

At the same time, Luis Enrique knew Balaidos and Celta like the back of his hand. He had coached in Vigo the season before accepting his current role, and played a respectable-sized hand in all that the Galicians are today. The architects of his team’s downfall were, by-and-large, players he knew extremely well. But as evidenced by the result, things had changed past the point of detectability.

“Today you have seen how well Celta can play,” he said post-game. “That is why we have lost; they played a very good game, in all senses. Today you can only congratulate them. They created many chances and one-on-ones.”

As expected, the autopsy from the defeated manager was congratulatory, but ambiguous. The current Celta trident hasn’t caused endless problems for teams simply by the way of ability; that type of success is exclusively exacted by the Neymar-Suárez-Messi’s of this world. Instead, those of the sky-blue lining have honed one redeeming feature. And one that isn’t so forthcoming to the immediate eye.

Take Nolito: for some, La Liga’s outstanding individual in 2015-16. Nobody in Spain has made more inaccurate passes than the 29-year-old. He has misplaced 136 through just eleven games, while only two other players in the country have passed 100 following the weekend’s round of fixtures.

At the same time, on the opposing wing, Orellana is the most dispossessed player in La Liga – having lost the ball 38 times through eleven games. Again, the second in line (Víctor Camarasa) has done so only 27 times; therefore making another member of the Celta trident not only the leader of an adverse category, but an anomaly within it.

Together, Berizzo’s wingers are also the pair to have recorded the most unsuccessful dribbles through the campaign’s opening months. With 66 collective attempts hitting bumps in the road, they stand above the rest in failed attacking ventures.

Though the statistics don’t reflect greatly on Celta in a host of instances; paradoxically, it also reveals just why the trident are anything but the wasteful, imprecise attacking core that the numbers might perceive.

It is by the weight of volume that the combination of the trident is providing output more akin to that of a Europe’s finest. For example, while Nolito is statistically the worst passer in the league, he was also, up until this weekend, the man to have produced the most key, chance-creating passes. Only Neymar (37) now leads him at the top, but the cushion between he and Nolito, and third place, is sizable.

Likewise, while Nolito and Orellana have recorded the most unsuccessful dribbles of any wing pair in the league, they are also in the top five for the number of successful dribbles.

In the final third, Celta are taking risks, and hyper-levels of risk at that. Eduardo Berizzo’s all-energy system is centred on quick circulation of the ball; which in its essence, acts as an all-hours supply line for their front three. Once there, it is down to Nolito, Orellana and Aspas to make instinctual, direct attacking movements – particularly in the case the former two. Aspas is generally the profiteer from those initial impulses.

The approach is thus almost a means of submission. Instead of the focus being on the quality of attacking situations, in the way that Barcelona’s trident do – given their more refined build-up play – Celta have instead increased their quantity of intent beyond a new frontier.

With Berizzo’s increased forgery of the team’s defensive system; whereby fullbacks and midfielders are aggressive as high up the field as possible, it creates a wave effect when coupled with the trident’s ‘express’ search for goal. Particularly on home soil at Balaidos, Celta are thus eroding opposition backlines by sheer, continual pressure.

Nolito and Orellana may be ceding their ownership of the ball at rates far beyond any other wide pairing in the league, but it matters not. That very same speculation is what is, eventually, opening the door for the Galicians on a consistent and reliable basis.

“The acceptance of correction and error is open,” Eduardo Berizzo said, following his team’s recent 3-2 win over Real Sociedad, where Celta came from behind twice to take the points back west.

Equivocal the Argentine may be, but his ideas are empowering an attacking trio beyond their realistic means. And for that, he is validating his own name as much the trio putting Celta within arms length of La Liga’s elite.

(all statistics collected via whoscored.com)

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp


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Celta Vigo’s exciting attacking starlet, Theo Bongonda, who signed from Zulte Waregem in January, was made to wait patiently for his first La Liga start by manager Eduardo Berizzo. Despite making sporadic appearances for the club since his arrival, a starting debut had so far been something that eluded him.

Bongonda completely understood it wasn’t going to be easy to replace the likes of Nolito and Fabian Orellana to force his way into the starting line-up, though.

“This season I was expecting to feature more prominently, but the coach is the one who decides. I have two players who are very good in front of me, Orellana and Nolito, and that competition means I have to do more in training,” he said.

However, in matchday six of this La Liga campaign, his exhaustive wait ended. All his hard work in training had finally paid off handsomely, as Berizzo granted him his wish by naming him in the starting line-up against Eibar.

Despite a slow opening to the contest from the Belgian, Bongonda worked his way into the match nicely from his station out on the left, in a game where he duly repayed his manager’s faith.

“I struggled to adapt to the rhythm of my teammates but with the passing of minutes I felt much better,” he said on the match.

After his initial period of adaptation, he began to showcase so many of the attributes that make him such a special talent. Blessed with searing pace, whenever afforded time and space to run at Eibar, he was a massive threat. In tandem with his lightning sharp change of direction, incredible strength, and excellent dribbling ability, Bongonda proved a real handful for Eibar (especially for David Junca, Eibar’s left back).

One moment in particular, on 16 minutes, encapsulated his individual brilliance and penchant to change a game as a result of this. Here, after an in-dispute ball bounced in the middle of the pitch, he leapt up dynamically and beat one half of Eibar’s central defensive pairing, Aleksandar Pantic, and cheekily knocked the ball beyond him. Then, he showed off his explosive pace to latch onto his header and beat the other half of Eibar’s central defensive duo, Mauro Dos Santos, to the ball. Santos tried in vein to stop him from breaking through, but Bongonda comprehensively outmuscled him, sending him crashing to the ground in the process. The rampaging Celta number 17 now only had Eibar’s keeper, Asier Riesgo, between him and scoring one of the goals of the season. Unfortunately for him, though, his side footed attempt was superbly saved.

As a consequence of his wonderful skillset, Bongonda unsurprisingly was a huge weapon for Celta in counter attacking situations too. In such scenarios, where his unpredictability on the dribble sees him equally comfortable beating his opponents by cutting inside or by going around the outside, he presented an extremely tough proposition for Eibar to manage.

It was also important to note that his movement without the ball saw him add an additional layer of danger, particularly in terms of space creation for teammates, but also by way of giving himself a good chance to make an impact in the final third.

He’d often look to make outside-to-in runs, which would effectively drag his opponent, Junca, infield with him. By doing so, oceans of space now became available for Celta’s left back, Jonny, to maraud into, while Bongonda, courtesy of his neatly executed runs, also got into excellent positions to receive balls over the top or in behind.

His enthralling duel with Junca got even more interesting when he undertook his defensive duties. He’d track back vigorously, press purposefully and impose himself physically on his adversary by flying fearlessly into tackles and throwing his weight around at every opportunity. Exuding a touch of rashness and overzealousness in his stopping efforts could have easily gotten him into trouble. But this wouldn’t have necessarily been viewed as a bad thing by his manager, for Berizzo would’ve unquestionably appreciated Bongonda’s intent to win the ball back.

So after an evening in which he covered an impressive 8.9km, the Belgian U21 international deserved plenty of praise for his encouraging body of work.

Even though his starting debut was overwhelmingly positive, there’s still plenty to work on for the gifted youngster. There’s still a sense of rawness attached to his play, which can see him momentarily lose concentration and commit errors. At just 19, and working under the thorough and expert tutelage of Berizzo, Bongonda will be given every chance to develop into the finished article. And the club will be fully expecting him to do just that.

“I am happy to play football in Spain and pleased with my progress. I have taken great steps not only tactically but also technically. Everything goes much faster. In Spain, every detail counts, and the difference with Belgium is huge,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws.

“The season is long and see what happens in the future. I feel I am important in the team and can play a key role. The coach told me to trust him long term. I have learned a lot since I got here. I learn a lot with my colleagues because the league level is higher.”

He’s a player who undoubtedly adds another dimension to Celta, who can be deployed on either flank, and this should see him earn many more minutes as the season rolls on.

For the forseeable future, though, it’s most likely he’ll have to be content predominantly featuring as an impact player off the bench. But what a great weapon he’ll be to throw on against tiring defences, who’ll find him a colossal handful.

In a fascinating side story, he’s actually great mates with Manchester City’s fine young defender, Jason Denayer, who’s currently on loan at Galatasaray. The pair have retained their strong friendship from their days at the Jean-Marc Guillou academy and are in regular contact with one another about life and football.

“I know him (Denayer) from childhood. In the academy we became close friends. We hear each day about all kinds of things,” he explained.

“We’re more than just football friends.”

He then went on to explain the sort of sacrifices he’s needed to make to reach the professional level.

“At 12, I entered the JMG academy and it was no joke. We were locked in, no friends, no family, we only had a few days of vacation per year,” he recalled.

Hearing the phrase “family always comes last” from Bongonda, who sadly even had to miss his sister’s wedding in August due to his preseason exertions with Celta, gives an insight into the harsh realities that are inherent in the life of a footballer.

Even though it must be hard for him sometimes, it’s clear to see how dedicated and driven he is to make it as a top level professional. It’s refreshing to see that despite the fame and riches that come with being a pro, Bongonda remains humble and supports his family with his earnings. He also makes sure he prays everyday – something his father instilled in him from an early age.

In a footballing and a human sense, Bongonda is unquestionably an excellent acquisition by the Galician club, who staggeringly only cost the club around £1 million. There’s every reason to suggest with his brilliant attitude and keen willingness to learn that he should progress into something very special.

You know Bongonda, who’s one of only three Belgians in La Liga (alongside Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Thomas Vermaelen) will do everything in his power to reach the upper echelons of the sport. He’s already sacrificed so much to get where he is today.

Expect a similar trend to continue in his quest for stardom – his tremendous dedication to his craft will see to it.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.

twitter: @licencetoroam


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