5 La Liga stars who could be Premier League January gems
January is likely to be a busy month. With both the Europa League and Champions League titles currently resting in Spain, there’s no doubt that the Iberian nation is where the cream of Europe’s developing talent currently resides. While the big clubs won’t want to lose their stars, there are many players who English outfits – boosted by ever-growing cash reserves – could prise away. FFT takes a looks at five feasible La Liga bargains for the January window...
1. Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia)
The France-born wideman is a game-changer, a player capable of creating something from nothing with his close control and powerful shot from distance
Gary Neville will spend January looking over his shoulder, with Valencia winger Feghouli’s contract set to expire at the end of the season. Now 26, the Algerian is entering the peak years of his career, with Champions League, La Liga and World Cup experience already under his belt. Combine that with his contractual situation and he looks like one of the most attractive players available this January.
At his best, the France-born wideman is a game changer, a player capable of creating something from nothing with his close control and powerful shot from distance. For an example of how well he can hit a ball, look no further than his winner against Lyon in the Champions League in September. He’s also shown plenty of finesse in the same competition this term, scoring a delightful half-volley against Monaco and a beautiful near-post flick in Valencia’s clash with Gent.
Los Che will make one last attempt to convince Feghouli to renew his contract next month, but they aren’t at all optimistic. Neville will pray that the club’s efforts succeed: allowing a winger of prime age, ability and experience to go on the cheap would be less than ideal – though it could soften the blow if the wideman's new club are Manchester United, rumoured suitors according to various reports.
2. Marc Bartra (Barcelona)
Excellent in the air and more accomplished with the ball at his feet than most of his peers, Bartra still needs to perfect his decision-making
Quality central defenders are hard to come by these days, and with a few more refinements to his game Bartra could certainly become one of those. The Catalan is on the road to nowhere at the Camp Nou, a lack of regular playing time making it impossible for him to push on and fulfil his full potential, yet loyalty to his boyhood club has prevented him from jumping ship. Until now, at least.
Luis Enrique doesn’t trust Bartra enough to play him regularly – the 24-year-old’s made successive Barça starts only once this season – but Vicente del Bosque does, and in an ideal world the Spain manager would like to take him to Euro 2016. A lack of game time at club level is a problem, however, so if the defender wants to ensure his place with la Roja next summer he’ll need to seriously consider his options.
Excellent in the air and more accomplished with the ball at his feet than most of his peers, Bartra still needs to perfect his decision-making. The youngster recently switched agents to none other than Carles Puyol – does Louis van Gaal still have the Barça legend’s number? Tottenham and Liverpool, meanwhile, have been linked in the past.
3. Ever Banega (Sevilla)
Losing a player as influential as Ivan Rakitic isn’t easy, but Sevilla got over that blow astonishingly quickly thanks to Unai Emery’s unlocking of Banega’s true potential.
Previously considered a luxury player who showed as many flashes of idiocy as brilliance (for example, the Argentine once ran his car over his own foot), Banega has cut out the off-field nonsense in Andalusia and upped his work rate to become a complete central midfielder. The Sevilla man turns 28 this summer and his contract runs out in 2017; with doubts over whether he will renew or not, now is the time for Premier League outfits to try to grab him.
There are few midfielders as inventive as Banega on his day. A genius on the ball, he excels at wriggling out of pressure and dumbfounding opponents with his variety of passing. He can also finish, with his five goals this season including a beautiful free-kick against Barcelona. Under the right coach, Banega could carry the creative weight of a top-bracket team. Serie A giants Juventus and Milan are said to be most interested, though he could be a viable option to replace Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea should the Spaniard move on in the near future.
4. Denis Cheryshev (Real Madrid)
Cheryshev’s awkward situation means there is potential for an elite club to obtain a winger of sizeable potential
For reasons entirely unrelated to his ability, poor Cheryshev’s chances of forging a career at Real Madrid have become more complicated in the last month or so, the Russian’s accidental elimination of his team from the Copa del Rey (he was used despite being ineligible, leading to Madrid's expulsion) making his task of winning round the notoriously demanding Santiago Bernabeu faithful even more difficult.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure, however, and Cheryshev’s awkward situation means there is potential for an elite club to obtain a winger of sizeable potential. The 25-year-old, who is capable of both scoring and assisting from the left flank, proved on loan at Villarreal last season that he can be a success at a top club. With a World Cup at home on the horizon, Cheryshev needs to get himself as much football as possible in the next couple of years. Liverpool have been most widely linked.
5. Jese Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
The re-emergence of the powerful, intimidating young forward who terrorised defenders in 2014 could be just around the corner
There was a time when Jese performed so well for Real Madrid that Carlo Ancelotti argued his team would have won a league title had the Gran Canaria native stayed fit. That was back in 2014, when the youngster exploded to prominence with a string of goals and assists against the likes of Barcelona, Villarreal and Valencia, outshining the previous summer’s mega-signing Gareth Bale and leading most to believe he would quickly deliver on the huge potential he had shown in the Madrid academy.
A cruciate ligament problem with the worst possible timing killed Jese’s momentum, however, and these days he spends more time on the bench or out of matchday squads than playing football. That isn’t a sustainable situation for an attacker of huge ability at a vital moment in his career (he turns 23 in February). To push on and prove his worth, Jese needs to play more regularly, and a move away from the Santiago Bernabéu may be the only way to achieve that.
A natural first-time finisher who can take opponents on to create his own goals or apply a deft touch to finish off a move in the penalty area, the two-footed Spaniard is comfortable playing across multiple forward positions, which makes him a formidable all-round package. The re-emergence of the powerful, intimidating young forward who terrorised defenders in 2014 could be just around the corner, in the right environment.