We continue our series of scouting reports on a number of Europe's touted transfer targets by looking at a Spanish trio attracting interest in the Premier League. Here we will focus on a playmaker tipped with a move to London, a potential answer to Chelsea's right-back issue and a goalscoring midfielder set to join Michael Laudrup at Swansea.
Santi Cazorla (Villarreal)
Were it not for a financial crisis at seemingly mega-rich Malaga, any potential transfer for Spain's Santi Cazorla would be likely to command a huge fee having only sealed an £18m move last summer. However, with players not receiving their wages at the end of the season and the club thought to be in masses of debt, interest in the 27-year old has sparked within Spain as well as North London, with Arsenal and Spurs both thought to be keen.
It isn't hard to see why clubs would be monitoring the situation closely after Cazorla's first season with the Andalusian club brought rave reviews. Only Messi, Ronaldo and Xavi ended La Liga season with a higher WhoScored rating than the Malaga man's 7.6, which was enough to see him rank 13th over Europe's top 5 leagues. In addition, Arsenal want-away van Persie was one of only 7 players to scoop more of our man of the match awards than Cazorla’s 10, and here’s why.
Cazorla played every league game for the Champions League qualifiers, scoring 9 times and assisting 5. It is clear to see that shooting from range is a key strength; with only 1 of said strikes coming from inside the box, his tally of 8 from distance was the most in Europe. A figure of 5 assists may not seem spectacular, but were it not for some wayward finishing from teammates an impressive average of 2.2 key passes per game would have reaped further reward. Meanwhile, excellent cross and long ball accuracies of 29.4% and 80.3% respectively could mean Cazorla is the advanced creative link that Messrs. Wenger and Villas-Boas are after.
One may think that with such impressive attacking attributes Cazorla could be one to shirk his defensive responsibilities, but averages of 2.2 for tackles and 2.6 for interceptions per game suggest otherwise. In fact, the Spaniard's only real weakness seems to be in the air, winning just 3 of 20 duels last season (15%), though that tends to come with the territory when you are 5'6". If the reports are to be believed, it seems teams will need to act fast on this one, with Real Madrid likely to be on the prowl.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Marseille)
With a move for Inter right-back Maicon now seemingly off the table it seems that Roberto Di Matteo has switched his attention to Marseille's Cesar Azpilicueta. If a deal can be agreed it may well happen before or after the Olympics, with the 22-year old set to represent Spain at the Games in London, and meetings with Chelsea officials appear to be in the offing during his time in the capital.
Azpilicueta is a right-back by trade, which has been a problem area for Chelsea, with neither Ferreira or Bosingwa stamping down the role in recent years and centre-back Ivanovic often called upon. Defensively the Spaniard is strong across the board, averaging 2.4 tackles, 2.7 interceptions and 2.9 clearances per game last season, which are all up on Bosingwa's figures. He also trumped the Portuguese for aerial duels won per game, with 0.9, though he was dribbled past slightly more often (0.7 per game to 0.5 per game).
A pass success rate of 74.3% will need to improve if he were to fit in at Stamford Bridge but in an attacking sense Azpilicueta averaged 0.9 key passes per game last season, which is again up on both Bosingwa (0.8) and Cole (0.5). Although he doesn't complete many dribbles (0.3 per game), the Marseille man is a full-back who looks to get balls into the box, with a decent 21.3% from 4.2 cross attempts per match. In comparison, Bosingwa 16.2% cross accuracy falls short, and with the Blues defender now out of contract, Azpilicueta could be a more than capable replacement.
Michu (Rayo Vallecano)
Michael Laudrup looks set to complete the signing of 26-year old Spanish attacking midfielder Michu from Rayo Vallecano after he impressed to end La Liga season with 15 goals - the most of any midfielder in the league. While his finishing was certainly impressive, with a 16.9% conversion rate from 2.4 shots per game, stats elsewhere suggest that he may not fit the framework left by Brendan Rodgers, with the new man at the helm potentially looking for a more direct approach.
Although Michu played in behind the striker for Vallecano for much of the season, playmaker he is not, averaging just 1.1 key passes per game and picking up just 3 assists. His pass accuracy of 68.5% was actually very poor, and not down to any great attempt to display a range of passing, averaging just 0.7 long balls and 0.1 crosses per game.
A tall and strong frame does mean that he isn't tackled often, dispossessed just 1.2 times per game, and in a technical sense his touch is decent, conceding possession just once per game due to poor control. However, the strongest indication that Laudrup is looking for alternatives to the short passing game instilled under the previous management is highlighted when seeing that only one player in La Liga won more aerial duels per game than Michu's 4.1. With 4 headed goals to his name, expect the Spaniard to add another dimension to Swansea's play next term and if he can get anywhere near his previous goal tally, the agreed fee touted could prove to be a real steal.