For a man who scored 16 goals in 76 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, Roberto Soldado’s late-career revival never seemed as it would happen by a mere switching of settings – even if it did include a return to his home region of Valencia.

At 30 years of age, the best version of Soldado is likely already in the history books. His international prospects have been and gone, as has his chance to affirm himself as one of Europe’s most feared sharpshooters. However, what now remains is an opportunity to rubber-stamp his status as one of the finest domestic strikers in Spain’s recent memory, following on from his time with Valencia and Getafe previously. And even with a modest two goals in eight games, the early signs are good.

It took him just 30 minutes to find the back of the net in the league opener at Real Betis, while in the corresponding weeks, Villarreal also rocketed to the summit of the table thanks to a string of free-flowing attacking performances. Nine goals were notched in three games, while for added effect; Marcelino’s team took the scalp of Atletico Madrid in September. In a team headed by Soldado, one would thus assume that the 30-year-old has remained a centrepiece of their successful start. And he has, albeit in a rather covert manner that has seen remnants of his true impact lost within the flurry.

While Villarreal’s overall statistics may make for pleasant reading, Soldado’s contribution of two league goals within the team’s 13 appears rather meager. After scoring in week one and two, the goals have dried up. And as of week eight, the Real Madrid youth product has now gone 450 minutes without finding the back of the net, to draw parallels with the two-year dry spell which he appeared to have emerged from.

To look beyond his goal tally however, a much different picture quickly reveals itself. Nobody has assisted more goals in Spain than Soldado so far, and when coupled with his own strikes, it means that his contributions have accounted for just under half of Villarreal’s production in the final third.

The blistering start made by the Yellow Submarine has gone some ways to masking their underlying deficiencies, and it has been Soldado who has taken it upon himself to help cover them up in the name of their cause.

In the 4-4-2 that Marcelino remains loyal to, much of the team’s product comes from wide areas due to a lack of a central creative source. Although midfield pairing Bruno Soriano and Manu Trigueros are exceptional players in their own right, the link between midfield and attack through the middle isn’t an innate feature of Villarreal’s game, meaning the buck has somewhat fallen with Soldado.

Given the 30-year-old’s ability in protecting and distributing the ball with his back to goal – which has been consistently on show since he returned to Spain – a large feature of his game has been based around his willingness to occupy the space between central midfield and the tip of Villarreal’s attack. And while that has facilitated the team’s serenity in the final third, it has come to the detriment of his own goalscoring exploits.

Instead of being the man Villarreal look to for the final touch of the attack (as many had expected), Soldado has been doing very much the opposite due to the nature of his skillset and the team’s immediate options. Unlike strike partners Leo Baptistao and Cedric Bakambu who have cashed in on the goals more than Soldado, neither possesses the ability to occupy spaces in between the lines like he does. And as a result, it means the former two find themselves bearing down on goal at much more regular intervals than the former Spurs man, who in turn is doing much of the foundation work for his teammates.

In many ways, the variety of his attacking attributes has sentenced him to a role which doesn’t reflect his contribution in its full essence – at least to the naked eye. At the moment, Soldado is doing positive work for the team that flies under the radar of tangible notoriety and leaves him susceptible to the recurring jibes of his loss of a ‘goalscoring touch’.

For a man who is imaginably desperate to recapture just that before further time elapses on his career, he should be commended if anything.

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


Share this article:


On a beautiful Friday night in Villarreal, at Estadio El Madrigal, the Yellow Submarines produced a stirring second half comeback to sink a desperately unlucky Espanyol outfit 3-1.

Fittingly, the key instigator in their unlikely triumph was undoubtedly the much derided, highly criticised Roberto Soldado. It had to be him.

After a horror spell at Tottenham, where he only scored seven goals during his two years at White Hart Lane, he followed on spectacularly from his goalscoring debut vs Real Betis last week, with another goal and two assists against Espanyol.

What a difference a change of scenery makes. Getting out of what had become a toxic situation for him at Spurs has done him wonders. More than that, returning to a league he knows and one in which he’s had huge success has also been key in him looking a revitalised figure.

“This is a very important step in my career. I’ve been away for two years in which I haven’t been able to give my best, but I’m convinced that I can score lots of goals for Villarreal,” he explained upon his arrival.

“I’ve spent two very difficult years in England where I lost my confidence. Villarreal’s interest has given me the enthusiasm and will to do great things.

“When their offer arrived I didn’t hesitate as it is a great opportunity to return to Spain and join a big club. I want to return to play at a good level and score lots of goals. I want to go back to being the player I used to be.”

Judging from his superb early season form, if there was ever a case study in a player’s happiness being paramount, Soldado’s an ideal example.

While he never truly got going in England, it’s important to note his work rate never came under question at Spurs, which is why, unlike many of his old teammates who also departed Tottenham, Soldado still represented a viable option for many top clubs.

Alex Hess of the Guardian aptly noted: “Roberto Soldado left after an underwhelming spell but unlike the others marked his time at the club with diligence and purpose.”

Marcelino, Villarreal’s outstanding manager, crucially believed the former Spanish international wasn’t finished yet. After all, when you combine the fact that he’s only 30 with his exemplary attitude, it’s easy to see why he was a gamble worth taking. And so far, that gamble is paying off handsomely.

In front of the 17,650 fans that witnessed Villarreal’s home opener, Soldado’s cerebral work off the ball inspired so much for his side. Playing up front alongside another divisive figure in Leo Baptistao, the pair mixed things up nicely by performing subtle switches, but Soldado’s positioning set him apart, providing his side with the spark they needed to get back into the game.

Throughout the first half there were definite signs that Soldado’s ability to situate himself in dangerous areas could make things happen. With Nahuel and Samu Castillejo providing excellent width, this meant the Espanyol fullbacks, Ruben Duarte and Anaitz Arbilla, were often forced to move out to the touchline to mark them. Soldado, realising vast spaces were now being created by the fullbacks having to vacate central locations, would, in turn, slip into positions in between either fullback and their nearest centre back.

By making use of these gaps, Soldado afforded himself the opportunity to receive the ball at his feet or make unimpeded runs in behind, as his marker would not be close enough to hamper his runs by way of applying physical pressure. It must be said the tactic worked swimmingly, and Villarreal’s second goal served as a fine testament to Soldado’s clever movement.

Here, Soldado’s ability to find unoccupied space proved vital. Upon observing Victor Ruiz in possession around the halfway line, Soldado took a couple of steps to his right to get bang in between Espanyol’s two central defenders (Alvaro Gonzalez and Raillo). Ruiz duly obliged Soldado’s clever movement, passing tidily into his feet. Once Soldado gathered Ruiz’s pass, he then swivelled sharply and, out of the corner of his eye, noticed substitute Cedric Bakambu screaming forward to his right. Soldado proceeded to play a delightful, defence-splitting through ball right into the former Bursapor hitman’s path. Bakambu calmly rounded Pau to score and give Villarreal a crucial 2-1 ascendency, but Soldado’s deftness to find space, and slide in a sumptuous ball to Bakambu, was undoubtedly what made the goal.

Furthermore, and although the former Real Madrid man didn’t score from any of his own runs in behind the opposing backline, he still inflicted plenty of headaches on Espanyol with his aptitude in this regard. He constantly made perfect runs into box, but his teammates just couldn’t supply him with adequate service. Nonetheless, the way he’d use his strength to get the better of his opponents, in order to get himself into impeccable scoring positions, continued to make him a real danger.

Although his goal on 67 minutes owed much to his obvious nous and striking instincts, it too gave a distinct lesson in how to outmuscle a marker. In this instance, the 30-year-old, after reading Samu’s aerial flick the quickest, gave his marker, Raillo, a forceful shove, in order to garner just enough separation from his man. Then, as the ball dropped, Soldado athletically volleyed the ball home, from waist height, getting just enough power on it to beat Pau. The goal indicated just how dangerous a proposition he can be, as the opportunity that presented itself to Soldado could barely have been considered a half-chance. Raillo thought he had his adversary covered, but Soldado still found a way.

Throughout the match the former Valencia marksman showed why he’s far more than your typical Miroslav Klose style fox in the box forward. Although he remained an effective target man and reference point for his side, he also dropped deep to link play and further showed his footballing acumen by demonstrating a great understanding with both his strike partners on the night, Baptistao and Cedric Bakambu. Whenever one dropped deep, one would stay high, meaning they never crossed paths or got in each other’s way. This ensured an option was always present upfield and that the midfielders weren’t left without a forward option.

Marcelino must be given due credit for how well synchronised his forwards’ movements was though. He’s well known for his masterful work on the training ground, but to have his frontmen working so magnificently in tandem at this early stage of the season is a huge testament to his tremendous managerial ability.

If there’s one thing Soldado can be grateful for developing during his underwhelming time at Spurs, it’s the defensive side of his game. Learning from Mauricio Pochettino especially helped in this regard, and as a consequence, he pressed and defended with a high level of energy against the Parakeets.

To cap off his night, Soldado bagged a second assist, once again teeing up Bakambu. But the way this goal arose was actually rather fortuitous, as the ball fell right into his path, after it’d landed perfectly for him following a deflection off Raillo. He only had to square the ball for his strike partner to score, and he did just that. Bakambu immediately turned and gratefully pointed to Soldado, as he knew he couldn’t have gotten his double without the Spaniard.

While the performance wasn’t vintage Soldado, his influence on the contest was unmistakable.

“I’ve been needing a game like that,” he noted after the match.

“My level in England wasn’t good. Let’s see if I can continue like this and hopefully in the future I can return to the Spain squad, which is what every player wants.

“I still have to work hard to get back to my best. A striker wants to score important goals that help the team. We reacted well to going down and Cedric Bakambu gave us a lot.”

In truth, Soldado really couldn’t have made a better start to life at his new club. He’s been involved in all four of his side’s goals so far this campaign (2 goals and 2 assists), but more than that, he appears well on his way to regaining his confidence again that was so badly shattered in England.

Costing a sizeable £10 million, he’s still got some way to go towards repaying the faith the club have placed in him, but if Soldado can keep up his terrific form, there’s no reason why he can’t do so, and, in the process, become one of the signings of the season.

He couldn’t be at a better place to get the best out of himself either, for under Marcelino’s expert tutelage, he’ll be given every chance to shine. After losing a plethora of their best attackers from last season, including Luciano Vietto, Ikechukwu Uche, Giovani dos Santos and Gerard Moreno, Soldado’s form will be essential if Villarreal are to enjoy a successful campaign.

We probably won’t see him get back to the same level as he reached in his days at Valencia, but in Soldado’s case, it’s just simply great to see him playing, scoring and, most importantly, enjoying his football again.

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.



Share this article:


In a market which over inflated prices for mediocre players is very much normality, it’s incredibly hard to find any type of transfer value. However, deep in the Valencian community of Spain Villarreal have done just that. After suffering three massive losses over the summer, the Yellow Submarine undertook a massive rebuilding project as their quest to bring Champions League football back to el Madrigal took a bit step in the right direction.

Despite average attendance hovering somewhere around 24,000, and the community of Vila-Real itself only boasting a population of 51,000 the club have continued to achieve above and beyond what is expecting of them. The club reached a Champions League semi-final in 2007 playing some of the most attractive football in Europe. But since then, relegation and regeneration have been the two buzz words. Since their promotion back to La Liga, the club have gone from strength to strength – achieving Europa League football at the first opportunity with a 6th place finish and appearing in the round of 16 this year.

As with any team that overachieves, bigger clubs quickly swoop in like vultures to prey upon the most desired assets. Little did Villarreal know that their three star assets would be pecked off by vultures bank-rolled by money from American TV, cement and Chinese investors. As Giovani Dos Santos, Ike Uche and Luciano Vietto disappeared off into the distance the bank balanced suddenly increased by a reported €24,000,000. It seems as though Villarreal’s summer is going to be as bright as the shirts they wear as two early arrivals from Andalusia signalled their intent. Samu Garcia and Samu Castillejo had been particularly impressive for Malaga over the past 18 months, gaining huge plaudits and even bigger admirers from overseas. The capture of Castillejo is particularly impressive – an under 21 international, the potential for him to become a starter for Spain is certainly there.

An old foe returned in the shape of Roberto Soldado, a striker who had been so lethal for near neighbours Valencia pitched up after a torrid two years in London with Tottenham Hotspur. Keen followers of the league will remember that Soldado regularly scored over 20 goals a season for Los Che, and despite his goal shy stay in England his €10m transfer back to Spain is already looking to be a good one. Two goals and two assists in three competitive starts would suggest that he is already on the long path back to his best form. Soldado acts as more than just a goalscorer, his role is now as  a mentor to younger strikers Leo Baptistao and Cedric Bakambu. Baptistao showed early promise but has since become no more than a back up striker to any club that would take him off the hands of Atlético Madrid. Bakambu, however, is already showing that he has what it takes to make a name for himself despite failing in France. His renaissance in Turkey last year (13 goals in 26 apps) alerted Villarreal to a striker whose pace and power needs tutoring from a seasoned veteran. Bakambu certainly looks as though he will offer more than Uche, Gerard Moreno and Jonathan Pereira did last year.

It is most apparent that, like Sevilla, Villarreal have a transfer philosophy which focuses on short term growth but with long term profit. Most noticeable is that their policy is to buy up incredible talent in the short term for moderate prices, with the aim of securing massive margins of profit within the next three years. Vietto’s departure suggests that this policy is finally beginning to work, as the Argentinian departs for €20m after being bought for €3,45m only 12 months prior. The most impressive aspect of the business dealings is that they have strengthened the team to no end in the short term.

Castillejo certainly brings an upgrade on the one dimensional Javier Aquino (who also left for the cement backed Tigres) on the wide right. Whilst the new striking quartet of Soldado, Bakambu, Baptistao and former Atlético Madrid striker Adrian offers a dynamism that Dos Santos, Uche, Periera and Vietto lacked at times last season as 48 goals scored demonstrates. Samu Garcia adds to the creative hub in the middle, where Manu Trigueros and Tomas Pina control the game. The arrival of Denis Suarez (whom some may remember from Manchester City) is as good a demonstration of the transfer policy as any. Arriving for €3m Suarez represents a value that simply does not exist in todays market, and should he be going to a Premier League club the free could treble. He is agile, quick and remarkably intelligent for someone who is only 20 years of age. Able to control the game, he’ll add remarkable creativity to an exciting Villarreal squad.

You would be forgiven for thinking that any club who loses a host of key players would be weaker in the coming season. But results this season suggest otherwise, as Villarreal’s demonstration of how a transfer window should work pays off on the pitch.

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


Share this article:


As the glitz and glamour of the Barclays Premier League transfer window edges into it’s final week, excitement is at fever pitch as cash-laden clubs scour Europe for the next big money deal. Whilst Jim White is feverishly running around the Sky Sports News studio from one touch screen to another, the mood over in Spain is all the more calm. At the same time the English clubs have been jetting off on tours to the Middle East and Australia, Spanish clubs have been tying up deals to replace those who have set off for pastures new. One aspect of the game that La Liga can gain plaudits for is the extraordinary knack of finding players who can sell on for huge profit, or revitalising careers by using them in a unique way that their previous club hadn’t thought of. These next five signings should demonstrate those two points and more over the coming season.

Aleix Vidal: Sevilla FC – FC Barcelona

Vidal’s move from Sevilla to Barcelona is certainly a sense of deja-vu –

the narrative of Barcelona buying converted full-backs from Sevilla has been written twice before with Adriano and more famously Dani Alves. Vidal’s move has been overshadowed by the fact that the current Champions bought him under a transfer ban, which means that he cannot feature in a competitive match until January. Due to this many have failed to spot what Vidal can actually bring to the table. An absolute workhorse down the right hand side, he can often be spotted blistering past the winger on an overlap where his magnificent crossing ability can be put to use. His new coach Luis Enrique is a fitness fanatic, and Vidal’s massive stamina will fit with Barcelona’s high-pressure ethos. Vidal is a humble player, whose rise from Almeria to Barcelona has been nothing short of magnificent and his flexibility gives Enrique the opportunity to mould him into the player he wants. Surely bought to cover the right-back slot when Alves hands the baton over, and is more than capable of doing so as his Spain call up over the summer suggests.

Roberto Soldado: Tottenham Hotspur – Villarreal CF

A familiar name for La Liga watchers returns as the ex-Valencia top-scorer joins provincial rivals Villarreal on a long term deal. Roberto Soldado certainly has the pedigree needed to send El Submarino to the next level after a season which secured European football at El Madrigal once again. After two disappointing years with Tottenham Hotspur, Soldado will be keen to exercise the memories of his time in London in which he became nothing more than the butt of jokes as he failed to settle. Primarily used as a lone-striker, his return to Spain will see him link up with Leo Baptistao or fellow new boy Cedric Bukambu as part of a two. Villarreal scored 48 goals last year, 23 behind Sevilla who finished 16 points clear of them. They will hope that the return of Soldado will go someway to closing that gap, and his impressive debut goal in the 1-1 draw with Real Betis suggests that Soldado is ready to fire on all cylinders.

Michael Krohn-Dehli: Celta de Vigo to Sevilla FC

The Danish central midfielder arrives on a free transfer from Celta Vigo and may prove to be a superb acquisition over the course of the season. Although he was the key creative hub for Celta last season, his role within the team was often overshadowed by wingers Nolito and Orellana. However, his contributions were invaluable as the Galician’s recorded an 8th place finish – their highest since their return to the top flight in 2011 – as he provided 5 assists and created a total of 69 goal scoring opportunities for the team. At 32 years old and behind some serious quality at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Krohn-Dehli may find it hard to make his mark full-time, but will make an impact over the course of the season as his attacking guile allows him to find space in opposition defences. His vision is second to none, and will provide a key option should Unai Emery need more attacking presence next to Ever Banega.

Samu Castillejo: Malaga CF – Villarreal CF

One of two Samu’s who left Malaga to join the yellow submarine of Villarreal this summer, which also demonstrates how well the Valencian outfit have bought after the departures of Giovani Dos Santos and Ike Uche. Castillejo burst onto the scene 18 months ago in a Malaga side that was full to the brim of home-grown talent. Since then, his development has been rapid and he has gained plaudits equally as quickly. At 20 years old, Samu is one of the most exciting talents at under-21 level, playing primarily as a winger he possesses fantastic pace with footwork to match. His ability to create chances from wide positions will certainly be an upgrade on an area that was lacking last year. Whilst work is needed on his final ball and decision making, this acquisition is certainly a strong one which will certainly have economical benefits in the future as big clubs across Europe already start to hover.

Raul Albentosa: Derby County – Malaga CF

The lanky central defender will be best remembered for his outstanding performances for the smallest club in La Liga last season. The former Eibar central defender joins Malaga on loan from Derby County for the season with the view of reviving his career after a slight lull in the British Midlands. Albentosa is certainly an upgrade on the outgoing Sergio Sanchez, and Malaga will be pleased to have secured his signature. The primary stages of his La Liga career were certainly positive with a series of assured performances for a club that many wrote off before they played their first game. It was clear to see that after the loss of Albentosa, Eibar struggled defensively – his return to La Liga will certainly add to an exciting Malaga squad.

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.



Share this article: