CITYWATCH: A View from Spain and Pick of the Players #1

Whether you love it or loathe it there is certainly no avoiding it due to the demand for instant success both on and off the pitch but Manchester City’s loan system is beginning to become even more noticeable across Europe, none more so than in Spain. After investments made by the City Football Group into partner clubs such as New York and Melbourne City, as well as the recently established links with the likes of Aarhus and NAC Breda as trading and scouting partners, the clubs agreement with Espanyol made back in 2011 seemingly paved the way for even closer ties with La Liga. Whilst in principle, City’s agreement with Espanyol solely involves the loaning of youth players to the Spanish club with Espanyol receiving first notice on players deemed surplus to requirements at City, you need only look across the first and second division to spot City players applying their trade on Spanish soil. Likewise the clubs relationship with Spanish Segunda División club Girona FC has made Spain become even more of a hotbed of exciting talent with many now initially coming through the ranks at Manchester City, following in the footsteps of Roque Santa Cruz, Alvaro Negredo and more recently Pablo Maffeo who have all previously made the transition from England to Spain through the loan system.

A View from Spain therefore aims to keep tabs on the current crop of City loanees playing in Spain, alongside a look at a few familiar faces which have played for Manchester City once upon a time. In addition make sure to keep an eye out for my ‘Pick of the Players’; a personal recommendation of a different La Liga talent each week that I feel City could and should make a move for in the future.

Players out on loan:

At their present teams one would have hoped for a case of Manchester City’s past and future pitting their talents against one another as struggling Deportivo La Coruña took on a high-flying Sevilla in Gameweek 12’s lunchtime kickoff. In Sevilla’s case with an important midweek clash against Juventus in mind, squad rotation was clearly on manager Jorge Sampaoli’s mind as Samir Nasri was rested and did not even make the bench for Saturday’s fixture. Conversely City’s summer signing Marlos Moreno could only make the bench for Deportivo with the club opting for former Liverpool man and opening goalscorer Ryan Babel in his place. In a hotly contested affair it looked like the home side Deportivo were to pull off an unlikely win until Sevilla struck late on to make it 2-2 with a matter of minutes remaining. Then on came City loanee Moreno then to help see the game out with his replenished energy levels and perhaps to catch Sevilla on the break. However complete disaster soon struck for the Colombian deep into injury time as Sevilla snatched a winning goal, continuing their run of good form to stay third in La Liga. Moreno’s Deportivo meanwhile sit a mere one point above the drop and both Moreno and his club will be certainly hoping he is able to recapture some of the form which earned him an initial move to England to help Deportivo avoid relegation.

Staying in the bottom half of La Liga now and a further two city loanees have found themselves fighting to help their team avoid the jaws of relegation. After a season of instability under Gary Neville and more recently under Pako Ayestaran, Valencia have once again struggled to reach the dizzy heights they have been so often used to and were again unable to see off lower league opposition. Despite a 95% pass accuracy and succeeding in two thirds of tackles attempted, Eliaquim Mangala’s Valencia failed to make use of their home advantage and could only earn a 1-1 draw against bottom-place Granada – a game on paper you would think they should win comfortably. Deportivo Alaves meanwhile, the temporary home of City youngster Manu Garcia slumped to a 1-0 away defeat against RCD Espanyol with Garcia left on the bench for the entirety of their home defeat. Despite being named in the squad, fellow City loanee at Alaves and Spanish forward Ruben Sobrino was not even selected among the substitutes for the 14th placed side.

Stepping down a division now to the Segunda and it is tale of very differing fortunes for City’s loanees in the second tier of Spanish football. Argentine Bruno Zuculini played a full 90 minutes for last season’s relegated La Liga side Rayo Vallecano but his side were unable to make the use of their man advantage and could only draw 2-2 with 6th placed and 10-man Huesca. In the nine games that Zuculini has featured for Rayo, the 23 year old midfielder is yet to contribute any goals or assists but has three yellow cards to his name. Meanwhile at the top of the pile sitting pretty in second place are affiliated club Girona FC, home of City’s Spanish central-defender Pablo Marí. After breaking into the first-team a fortnight ago, Girona have won both games in which Marí has played a full 90 minutes in both, only conceding one goal.

Ex Blues in La Liga:

As well as the present loanees and potential future starters for Manchester City, the abundance of former players in Spanish football is unable to go unnoticed. Fresh from featuring for the Spanish U21’s last week, Denis Suarez started for FC Barcelona in the Catalan side’s 0-0 home draw with Malaga. Again with squad rotation evidently in mind, Suarez featured for 68 minutes before being replaced by André Gomes. In keeping at the top of the table, former City defender Stefan Savic played a full 90 minutes for Atlético Madrid in their 3-0 home derby defeat against Real Madrid. Not only did the former blue bring down Ronaldo causing the penalty which led to Real’s second goal of the game but Ronaldo’s first of three goals came somewhat fortuitously; a free-kick deflecting off Savic’s hip and into the bottom corner.

Meanwhile two of City’s once promising youngsters came face to face as Eibar leapfrogged Celta Vigo into 8th place with a 1-0 victory. Frenchman Florian Lejeune, who despite being on City’s books never actually featured for the club instead being loaned out to Girona after signing and later moving to Spain permanently, played a full 90 minutes for Eibar as they defeated John Guidetti’s Celta Vigo. Despite appearing as a second-half substitute, the 24 year old Swede was unable to overturn the deficit and has certainly struggled this season for regular game-time with a move away from Vigo heavily rumoured in the winter transfer window. Also despite their spells in Manchester coming during very different periods in the clubs recent history, former City duo Martin Demichelis and Felipe Caicedo shared the same bench for RCD Espanyol with the latter coming off the bench to help see out a 1-0 victory for the away side. Meanwhile in the Spanish second division, former City man Jose Angel Pozo led the line for a struggling Almeria who did eventually run out as 2-1 winners against mid-table Elche.

Pick of the Players: Marc Roca

With question marks over the much longer term future of Yaya Toure at the club despite his spectacular showing this weekend, central midfield could be a position that City may well find difficult to fill. Despite such form after his extended absence from the first-team has been rightly well received, the longevity of Toure’s individual match-winning contributions raises the wider question of the club going forward and a much longer term replacement for the midfielder. Similarly out of the few positives to come from City’s derby defeat in the EFL Cup, you could strongly suggest that perhaps turning to youth products may well be the way forward. With these factors in mind, after several media outlets and even here on City Watch singling out Pablo Maffeo and Aleix Garcia especially for their eye-catching performances in what was one of their few first team appearances for the club, my first pick of the players has to be 19 year old Marc Roca.

Currently at RCD Espanyol, a club as previously mentioned sharing a warm relationship with City, Marc Roca is Spanish central midfielder whose performances, like Garcia’s in the EFL Cup, have began to catch the eye of football fans in Spain. After joining the clubs youth ranks back in 2007, it took until August of this year for the youngster to be given his full first-team debut in a 2-2 home draw against Malaga. After being given the chance by former Watford boss Quique Sánchez Flores, it is fair to say Roca has seized the opportunity appearing nine times out of eleven games this season, included in their starting XI on eight of the occasions. Described by WhoScored.com as a player who excels in dribbling, playing the ball off the ground often and enjoys shooting from distance, Roca appears to have all the attributes and potential to fill the void should Yaya Toure leave in the near future. Even despite signing a new contract a matter of weeks ago, this would appear however to have been done largely to fend off the likes of Southampton and Liverpool who were linked with Roca back in October and to also remove his previous and somewhat undervalued buyout clause reported to be at a mere €2M.

Clearly it is still early days for the young midfielder and he is most definitely one for the future but if Aleix Garcia is anything to go by it may well be worth taking a chance on the Espanyol youngster. It could prove to be a case of replacing Toure with the young Spaniard as ‘the wise man building his house upon the Roca’ for a more stable Manchester City going forward.

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