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.