There was no deal in Spain as large as those of Juan Mata or Nemanja Matic over the January transfer window, as clubs instead resorted to what has become the norm – loans and free transfers – to bolster their aspirational and ailing squads. If anything it brings about a more calculated approach to the market, and certain teams did some intriguing business. Here are five deals that could well be key come the end of the season.
Léo Baptistão (Atlético Madrid to Real Betis on loan)
Where one door opens at the Calderon, another closes. Léo Baptistao is one of those players, and the desire on the part of Atleti was to get a player on the fringes some minutes to regain confidence in his game. Betis are clawing with desperation to maintain their La Liga status, and what better way than to bring in a player who could well have a future in the league. Léo’s impact has been instant, already soaring to the top of Betis’ shots per game and dribbles charts with 2.5 in each category. He’s already bringing a spark and different dynamic to a floundering Betis attack, and this was shown by Betis scoring two goals after his introduction from the bench this past Saturday – the club’s first win in La Liga since September. How he combines with Rubén Castro could well be the defining line between relegation and survival for Betis.
Diego Ribas (Wolfsburg to Atlético Madrid on loan)
It’s a loan, but it’s also arguably the most exciting piece of business that took place in Spain. Diego Simeone’s admiration of Diego Ribas isn’t a secret, and when money got in the way of the Brazilian staying on after his first loan spell at the club there was great disappointment on both sides. Both parties remained patient, however, and the pair have finally been reunited. It took just 27 minutes for Diego to re-ignite his love affair with Atleti and show off his capabilities on Sunday evening in his second debut, as he ghosted unguarded into the penalty area before finishing with aplomb. It’s his creative spark Atleti will value most, as they face deep block defensive teams, an area that has been a genuine problem in an almost perfect season thus far. What’s more, the Brazilian knows the side’s system well and adaptation isn’t likely to be an issue. In the Bundesliga this season with Wolfsburg, Diego had ranked 11th for key passes per game, with 2.2. His successful dribbles per game meanwhile, were 4th most overall, with 5.0. It’s these figures Simeone will look to transfer to Atleti, and ease some of the burden on the sparkling pair of Koke and Arda Turan in the creative hub. With three competitions in full swing Atleti will need all their depth, and if it comes with the quality of Diego then even better.
Eduardo Vargas (Napoli to Valencia on loan)
Valencia have many problems as a club, and even with the victory over Barcelona this past weekend there is still much building and soul searching to be done. They need goals first and foremost, and if they can get them then they’ll make an assault on the European places that the club so desperately needs in its precarious financial position. The combative, energetic Eduardo Vargas looks a perfect fit for Juan Antonio Pizzi’s system, requiring that the individual sacrifices himself for the team and plays with the right mindset. Valencia’s 31 goals is a poor haul when put up against the teams they should be challenging, and Vargas may well contribute directly to that with his movement and influence in the final third. On the counter, Valencia need more punch and variation too, with just 8% of their goals arriving via this means. 6 goals in 14 with Gremio is a decent haul and is more than Helder Postiga and Dorlan Pabón managed, while Vargas’ pace and intelligent movement have also caught the eye of Pizzi. His 2.3 shots per game while with Gremio meanwhile is better than all but one Valencia player in Jonas, while his 1.9 dribbles per game is bettered only by Éver Banega, who is no longer with the club.
Stefan Mitrovi? (Benfica to Real Valladolid on loan)
The signings at the bottom of the table are as important as those at the top, and Valladolid, who have for some time worked the market in Europe well, may well have a gem here. Mitrovic has arrived from Benfica desperate for game time, and in the two appearances he has made so far he’s been an immense presence. The 1.89m centre-back could shine brightly under Juan Ignacio Martínez, a known advocate of defensive systems, and make the step to bigger and better things. Valladolid haven’t yet conceded with him playing, and those games have come against tough opponents in Villarreal and Getafe. He’s already made an enormous 13.5 clearances per game, the most at Valladolid, while contributing 2.5 interceptions, which puts him in 3rd at the club. Given his height it’s unsurprising he’s won 3 aerials duels per game too. His understanding with experienced centre-back Jesús Reuda will be key, while his aerial threat will be an asset for Valladolid to use both in defence and when attacking with set-pieces, from which they’ve grabbed 33% of their goals this term.
Oliver Torres (Atlético Madrid to Villarreal on loan)
He’s been heralded as the future of Spanish football, but for now Oliver Torres has landed himself a key loan move. Villarreal profess the sort of football Torres wishes to learn, and after finding it difficult to gain minutes at Atlético Madrid, a role in Villarreal’s push for Champions League qualification seems more viable. Torres can do it all in midfield, from sitting deep and constructing attacks or playing more advanced, darting between midfield and attack. Technically speaking, he’s incredibly gifted, and with the likes of Cani and Gio Dos Santos there is something to savour surely. He can dribble, as shown by his 1.1 successful dribbles per game, and shift it too with Xavi-like precision. His performance against Porto, all 62 minutes of it, was a joy to behold as his rare footsteps on the grandest stage saw him assist a goal and take away a 7.3 WhoScored rating. Villarreal have struck golden; in fact, they’ve struck Spain’s golden boy.