After a comfortable 11th place finish in the 2015/16, the clubs 32nd season in the top-tier of Spanish football and their first for some years after promotion from the Segunda division the season before, Las Palmas have again proven to be one of the league’s surprise packages this season. Impressive victories over the likes of Athletic Club, Valencia and Malaga as well as a draw against league leaders Real Madrid seemingly appeared to give Quique Setién’s side the confidence they needed to push on in the 2016/17 league campaign and despite losing their last three consecutive league games, Los Amarillos sit comfortably above the drop at mid-table in 12th position. As with any side wishing to compete in the top tier of any high-quality league not only in Europe but throughout the world, clearly goals have been key and differently to high-flying Real Sociedad and Eibar who have been largely reliant on one or two individuals at most in front of goal, it appears to have been much more of a team effort in for the Gran Canarian side in scoring over a highly credible 32 goals in 23 league games.
Yet for every goal scored against the opposition in front of you, whilst many think that attack is the best form of defence, what real good is there in having a team capable of free-scoring yet struggle with basic defensive duties that annul such an attacking advantage? Thankfully for Las Palmas, at least so far they have been able to play their natural, free-flowing attacking football but also to equally match this with a reliable backline that has been able to limit the amount of goals conceded. A significant weakness in defence can and often has proved to be the downfall for a number of clubs perhaps punching above their weight in La Liga but Las Palmas continue to defy the odds and cut it with the more, established Primera División sides and that is notably down to their solid defensive structure when under attack.
Although older players can be key when it comes to a largely inexperienced side such as Las Palmas, wedged in the centre of an experienced four man defence stands a 21-year old who has all the potential to go on and perform not only a club competing much higher up in the Spanish top flight but perhaps at a much higher level in many of the top leagues around Europe.
Born three days after Christmas Day, Paolo Mauricio Lemos Merladett or more commonly known as Mauricio Lemos is perhaps the best Christmas present that Las Palmas fans could have asked for the rest of the 2016/17 season. After spending three years playing at youth level in his native Uruguay for Montevideo club Defensor Sporting, it was way back in 2014 when the 6ft defender made his professional debut at the mere age of 18 as a starter in his side’s 2-1 home defeat to local rivals Montevideo Wanderers. Building on limited game-time during his first season at the club, his second proved to be more prosperous as Lemos made even more appearances and whilst impressing the onlooking crowd, not only earned himself a call-up to the Uruguay U20 setup but also earning himself a move to the Russian Premier League – a one year loan move to FC Rubin Kazan. It then took only eight appearances for his new club with four coming in the league before Lemos was bought outright.
Despite early promise and initial signs that Lemos was cut out for a career in the Russian top flight, Kazan decided to part ways with Lemos in January 2016; sending the Uruguayan defender out on loan to a high-flying Las Palmas for the rest of the season with a buyout clause allowing the club to make the move permanent should things work out much better than they did for Lemos at Rubin Kazan… and they did. Following nine appearances for Las Palmas and in keeping with his progression for the Uruguayan youth ranks to which at this time of writing has saw Mauricio make a combined total of 43 appearances at U20 and U23 level for his national side, Lemos was rewarded for his good-form and soon signed a permanent five-year deal with the club. Taking a chance on Lemos may have therefore been seen as a brave move after a disappointing spell in Russia but Las Palmas are most certainly reaping the rewards of their gamble with Lemos already surpassing 1000 minutes played for the club this season alone, let alone the 736 minutes and 10 appearances made last season for the Gran Canarian outfit – not bad for a recently turned 21 year old!
Since the turn of a new calendar year Lemos has starred for Las Palmas in six consecutive league games, building on his previous five line-up appearances that came in the first four months of the 2016/17 La Liga season. Likewise when presented with such an opportunity for first-team football in high-profile matches against Sevilla, Barcelona and Valencia, despite the faltering form of his club on the pitch in recent times, individually Lemos has caught the eye and in mediocre draws and defeats on the pitch, you could say that the promising Mauricio Lemos has been of very few positives so far this 2017. Therefore in terms of a defender, Lemos has proved to be incredibly astute at the highest level but the Uruguayan does however many more strings to his bow; an eagerness to play both long balls as well as the ball off the ground and at direct-free kicks and dribbling in possession of the ball, Lemos continues to excel for Las Palmas.
With an impressive 85% pass success alongside his first two La Liga goals achieved already this 2017, the future certainly looks bright for Lemos and should he continue to keep producing the same level of performances that he has done so far this season, there’s no doubting that it certainly won’t be long until the talented 21 year-old is soon on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
2016/17 Las Palmas statistics (at the time of writing)
Appearances: 13 (11 Starting XI)
Yellow Cards: 3
Pass Success: 85%