Mikel Oyarzabal – Real Sociedad
With another international break coming far too soon after the last one, people are casting their eye towards the World Cup. One side most expect to make the cut are Spain. Here are five potential wildcard options for Julien Lopetegui to include in his World Cup squad.
Spain has a rich history of not rushing through youngsters. Whereas in England a player leaps from the U21s to the senior squad in a matter of months, there’s a thing called patience over here. It isn’t simply about being good enough but about learning the system and creating a bond with their peers. Not for a single tournament but the next two or three. Oyarzabal could break that mould.
In recent months we’ve seen Marco Asensio establish himself at both club and international level so the rule of thumb isn’t unbreakable. Oyarzabal is a key man in the U21 squad already and will play in the U21 qualifiers this weekend. But after a wonderful start to the season he might dream of going to Russia as well.
Three goals and one assist in four LaLiga appearances show Oyarzabal is growing in confidence in an impressive Real Sociedad team. In San Sebastian they’ve been talking about this kid’s talent for years. After a solid, but not spectacular, campaign last time around Oyarzabal wants to push on. With Spain likely to play with a lone striker there’s a need for goalscoring wide men to surround him. If he keeps up this early season form then he’s in with a chance of going to Russia.
Dani Parejo – Valencia
It feels like Dani Parejo will never get a call-up for Spain. Unfortunate to play in a position which has been dominated by three Barcelona men, maybe this summer will finally see Dani Parejo get a chance at senior level.
Arguably in his best form for 2-3 years, Parejo has benefitted from Marcelino’s appointment more than most. The signing of a natural defensive midfielder allows Parejo to dictate play and cause damage in the final third. His range of passing is as good as anyone else in the country and there’s a new-found confidence in his all-round game.
A winner at U19 and U21 level with Spain, it would be quite fitting to see him play a part in Spain’s World Cup campaign. Competition for places once again means it’ll be far from easy. This week Jonathan Viera replaced the injured Andres Iniesta but Parejo can’t be far away. It’s his job to make sure he maintains his good form over the course of the season. If he does, he’ll warrant a spot in Spain’s squad.
Sergio Leon – Real Betis
Spain are still finding it hard to replace the influential David Villa in the team. Alvaro Morata is in fine form for Chelsea and will lead the line for La Roja at the World Cup. However despite a good record at international level, Morata has never really looked a good fit for the current system.
Iago Aspas, Aritz Aduriz and now Rodrigo are all on the list of potential forwards to lead the line but how long can Sergio Leon go unnoticed? After a sensational campaign at Osasuna last season where he scored 10 goals he’s already on four this year. In a Real Betis side which plays its fair share of tiki-taka football, Leon continues to impress.
More than simply a target man Leon is good with the ball at his feet, holding up play and getting into the right positions. With the quality Spain possess in midfield the last part is essential. It’s his awareness to drop into pockets of space or get in behind defences which make him a viable option. If he scores 15+, surely Leon won’t be ignored by Lopetegui?
Denis Suarez – Barcelona
Barcelona sit pretty on the top of LaLiga with a perfect record after seven games. Much of the talk prior to the season getting underway was regarding those who left and those who joined. Would Neymar be missed? Could Ousmane Dembele or Gerard Deulofeu step up? Yet, in amongst all of this, it’s Denis Suarez who looks like a new signing at Barcelona and is justifying his place in the team.
Sometimes being a jack of all trades can be a disadvantage as you fail to lock down a specific position. But the injury to Dembele and Deulofeu’s disappointing start has allowed Suarez a chance to shine both in midfield and further forward. After largely playing a bit-part role under Luis Enrique it could have dented his confidence. But it’s clear to see Ernesto Valverde is a huge fan of Denis’ and values his role in the squad.
Denis finally playing with confidence too. When you join a big team it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But now there’s a maturity to Denis’ game and if he ends up playing a key role in Barcelona winning a major trophy or two he can’t be overlooked. We all know how valuable it is to have players comfortable in more than one position for these international tournaments.
Carlos Soler – Valencia
It’s a good time to be a Valencia fan and similar to his teammate Parejo, Carlos Soler is enjoying life under Marcelino. The starlet burst onto the scene last year under Voro’ and put the spotlight on the club’s academy. Forget the expensive imports, Soler’s rise proves there’s plenty of talent already at Valencia.
This season has seen Soler move out wide to play on the right instead of in the middle. With the strong work ethic Marcelino demands, Soler has a licence to roam inside from the touchline as long as the full-back provides support. This makes the Valencia man harder to mark. In turn, it allows him more time and space to cause damage.
In the opening set of fixtures Soler has been involved in more goals than any other midfielder (one goal, four assists). He also leads the assists chart for his position too. Soler is in the same boat as Oyarzabal in that his current projection is to stay with the U21s and head to Italy next summer. However he’s still in with a chance of making the senior squad if he continues to outperform his rivals.