The Spanish Armada
When Manuel Pellegrini was appointed as the new manager of Manchester City back in May, he promised that he would bring an “attacking” and “attractive” style of football to the Etihad Stadium. And he hasn’t failed to deliver. Despite recording just a single away win so far this season over West Ham – with losses to Aston Villa, Cardiff and Chelsea, and a goalless stalemate with Stoke at the Britannia – Pellegrini has shown some of the many reasons why he was given responsibility at the helm of the club.
The Chilean has acquired the nickname “The Engineer” during the course of his managerial career, and he has been just that so far at Manchester City. He has lubricated old parts – reviving players like Aleksandar Kolarov, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko by providing them with more confidence, as well as tweaking his Sky Blue Machine and adapting it to tailor for his own preferences. After spending around nine years in Spain with Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga, the 60-year old has developed a distinctive taste for the so-called ‘Tika-Taka’ approach to football.
Pep Guardiola, now the head coach of European giants Bayern Munich, spent his entire stint of La Liga management at Barcelona. This long chapter overlapped with Pellegrini’s coaching for around 5 years, and it demonstrated the beautiful nature of the ‘Tika-Taka’ style. Deploying a midfield anchor of Sergio Busquets, a free-form ‘trequartista’ in the form of Andres Iniesta, a deep-lying ‘regista’ who dictates the tempo of a game with Hernandez Xavi, an extraordinary player like Lionel Messi as a ‘false 9’, and two pacey, skilful wingers like Pedro and Alexis Sanchez allowed as much creativity as possible without losing defensive protection.
Now trying to apply a similar concept in England, Pellegrini has perhaps chosen the perfect club. At Manchester City, he has access to similar players. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho provide an attacking and defensive presence in the central areas, a technical playmaker in the profile of David Silva, a natural finisher in Sergio Agüero and two gifted wingers with Jesús Navas and Samir Nasri.
So far this season, Pellegrini’s gears seem to have whirred and are fully operational. Home triumphs over Newcastle United, Everton, Hull City and, of course, Manchester United, seem to indicate that the new ‘revolution’ at the Etihad Stadium is underway. Despite this, it is on the road that spanners appear to have been thrown into the works and City seem to have stalled. The emphatic win over West Ham at Upton Park was temporarily seen to be a dismissal for these concerns, yet more mistakes against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last City’s share of the spoils in a 2-1 loss.
On the whole, however, Manchester City’s football thus far in the 2013-14 campaign has been promising. Playing with a high defensive line, City’s attacking players have been granted more freedom, and players like Yaya Toure have been allowed to penetrate in the more dangerous, advanced areas of the pitch. This statement is supported by numerous facts and figures. For example, Yaya Toure has scored 6 goals in all competitions so far this season, although he only managed 10 throughout the entire course of the last season.
This has come as a direct result from the ‘Tika-Taka’ tactic that has been until-now successfully employed by the new boss. Fast passing and quick movement has been pivotal for City so far.
One of the first things you will notice when you take a look at the Manchester City squad is the incredible number of Spanish players. There are a prominent number of former La Liga stars. In total, the Citizens have four Spanish compatriots – David Silva, Jesús Navas, Álvaro Negredo and Javi García. Additionally, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Agüero and Martín Demichelis – all of whom are Argentinian – were signed from Espanyol, and the latter two from Atlético Madrid, respectively.
These seven players have amassed a staggering 378 appearances between them, which illustrates their importance to the Manchester City operation.
Despite several of these players having been at Manchester City for a couple of seasons, Pellegrini has attracted three of them to the English outfit this season alone. Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo were both signed from Sevilla in the summer, with the former brought in to inject some much needed pace on the right-hand flank. Martín Demichelis was bought for defensive cover, although a training injury has seen him side-lined since his summer deadline day move.
In the grand scheme of things, the Premier League is no stranger to welcoming Spanish quality from across the continent. Most, if not all, top clubs now have Spanish players within their squads. Fellow big-spenders Chelsea have Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, whilst Arsenal have purchased Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta in recent years.
Yet it’s not really a surprise. Spanish players are renowned for their skill and technical ability. In modern football, as the tempo increases and fans feed off of beautiful passes, skills and goals, the traits provided by the majority of Spanish players are extremely beneficial.
This is one of the countless motives for Manchester City to be currently developing a new £200-million academy on the Etihad Campus. In the style of the colossal Catalan side, former- Barça and now City executives Txiki Begiristian and Ferran Soriano have endeavoured to generate one of the world’s best footballing academies, which will feature state-of-the-art training pitches, a football stadium for the club’s youth teams and also involves partnering with a community sixth-form college within close proximity of the Etihad Stadium. The ultimate aim is to produce some of the world’s finest young talent with the intention of creating a self-sustaining football club in the future. Existing young, Spanish talent like striker Jose Angel Pozo – obtained from Real Madrid – will continue to bloom under the planned innovative transformations.
The influence of both players and managers moving from La Liga into the English game has been phenomenal in years past. Juan Mata has had a particularly significant effect at Stamford Bridge since his £24 million move from Valencia in 2011. Since then, the 25-year olds pace, energy and movement has contributed massively to Chelsea’s newest achievements. This ideology is reflected by the astonishing number of goals and assists Mata has received during his time in England. In just over two terms, the Spaniard has netted 32 goals and created 49 more for his teammates, and considering he is an attacking midfield, that is some feat.
David Silva has some similarly impressive statistics to his name – 20 goals and 47 assists. The 27-year old, dubbed ‘Merlin’ by the City faithful, has accumulated a staggering 301 chances generated since making his Premier League debut – the most by any player during that period. Another encouraging figure is that no other player from Europe’s top 5 leagues has created more chances per game than David Silva this season, who has averaged 4 per game.
When you observe the entire picture, the valuableness of Spanish players becomes apparent. In the 2012-13 season, each of the ‘top four’ teams – besides Champions Manchester United – had a distinctive playmaker who was Spanish. Manchester City had David Silva, Chelsea had Juan Mata and Arsenal had Santi Cazorla.
Perhaps the most remarkable quality of drawing talent from La Liga is that many of those who do make the exchange acclimatise to the new division rapidly. They seem to fit in seamlessly and immediately. The perfect example of this is Álvaro Negredo. The ‘Beast of Vallceas’ has already formed an excellent strike partnership with fan favourite Sergio Agüero and the pair have scored a combined total of 11 goals so far this season. Agüero’s pace and agility coupled with Negredo’s powerful physicality and instinct for goal has been a huge success – a partnership that especially dominated Manchester United’s defence back in September. City’s number 9 has netted a goal for the club every 120 minutes this season, whilst Kun Agüero has a total of 8 goals and 3 assists in 663 minutes.
It’s interesting to see that City have only lost one league game in which the Argentine has scored – winning 32. drawing 2 and losing one against Chelsea. In fact, the Blues have now managed to score in their last 54 consecutive home games in the Premier League.
So, it could be said that Spanish players provide skill and flair to a division which could otherwise be described as fairly static. However, on a final note, does the Premier League cater for La Liga’s needs to an even greater degree? World-class players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso have all swapped England for Spain – in particular Real Madrid – in the past 5 years.
Overall, which league benefits the most from the other?
Which clubs benefit the most?
What do you think?
7 out of 10 people that I asked responded positively to the statement “Do you think players and managers moving from La Liga to the Premier League have an overall positive impact on English football?”
Stats courtesy of Squawka and @TypicalBlueMoon