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La Liga Bargains Celtic Should Target This Summer

 • by David Cartlidge
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Celtic’s progression as a club under Brendan Rodgers has been consistently impressive. 

Domestic titles have, as expected, been delivered. There has also been improvement in Europe, although reaching the latter rounds of a competition has alluded the Hoops.

One of Rodgers’ biggest successes in Glasgow has, however, been to lay out and execute a long-term vision. Celtic now have a defined tactical style, one that players, club executives and fans alike have bought into.

That identity makes it easier to operate in the transfer market. Potential targets can be whittled down and evaluated based on whether they’d fit into Rodgers’ system. Those who don’t can be discarded without time and money wasted on additional scouting.

This summer Celtic will be searching once again for quality over quantity. They don’t have the same millions to spend as Premier League sides but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve.

One market Rodgers should look to exploit is Spain. Clubs, aside from the big-names, don’t have huge budgets and that means bargains are on offer.

So we have picked out for players from La Liga the Hoops should consider moving for when the transfer window opens.

Ximo Navarro

Given he plays for Las Palmas, who are likely to suffer relegation this term, it’s not entirely surprisingly Navarro has often been overlooked. However, he has proven a fine acquisition for the Canary Islands-based club.

He arrived last summer on a free transfer after leaving Almería and has been a dependable presence in the backline. An intelligent and versatile centre-back, give him a specific role and he will deliver each and every time.

Ximo Navarro, Fernando Torres

His average of 2.47 interceptions per 90 this term is a team high while he is also making 2.21 tackles per 90, the second highest total of any Las Palmas player to have played over 1000 La Liga minutes. 

Add in that Navarro can also play competently in either full-back position, he could prove to be one of this summer’s shrewdest signings.

Gabriel Pires

Somewhat of a hidden gem in La Liga, Gabriel’s been a strong performer for Leganes for a number of years. He helped them gain promotion to the top flight in 2016 and has never been out of his depth against Spain’s best. It’s why he is ready for a step up. 

The midfielder’s all-round game is excellent, but he shines when in the attacking third. The Brazilian has license to roam which means he pops up in wide areas but also makes timely movements through the middle to support the attack.

Gabriel has scored five times this season, outperforming his xG (expected goals) of 4.11, while also assisting once.

His general stats are impressive too and only one Leganes player is attempting more passes per 90 and taking more shots than the 24-year-old’s 43.28 and 1.71 respectively. Defensively, meanwhile, his 3.46 tackles per 90 is only bettered by one player.

Gabriel’s numbers show the balance and flexibility in his game. He has the energy to cover the pitch and contribute in both phases. And given Leganes operate on a shoestring budget, he wouldn’t cost Celtic big money. He ticks almost all of the club’s boxes.

Jony

After a sensational 2015/16 campaign with Sporting Gijon, despite their relegation, Jony was snapped up by Malaga.

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Unfortunately he’s failed to hit the same heights with the Andalusian side and opted to move back to Gijon on loan in January.

Malaga, set to suffer relegation from La Liga this season, will likely look to move the 26-year-old on and that is where Celtic could step in. 

Jony is a quick, skilful winger with plenty of end product. He’s particularly good on the counter and links well with teammates.

He’s already struck three goals since returning to Sporting on loan, while that impressive 2015/16 season saw him net five times and register seven assists in the top flight. 

There’s no doubt that Jony would be a risk but Rodgers has often brought the best out of his players. The Spaniard’s ability is not in question, it just needs to be unlock.

If the Celtic boss was to do that then his side would possess one of trickiest wide players in Scottish football.

Óscar Duarte

The Costa Rican defender has found himself pushed out of the first-team picture at Espanyol and might well be lined up for a move away in the summer. 

His omission is an interesting one given he’s arguably the most talented centre-back at the club and is a threat from set-pieces, he has five goals to his name this term. 

Duarte is a well balanced defender who is able to play out of the backline, but also stick a foot in or clear any danger – his average of five clearances per game is the second most in the team.

From a passing point of view he’s comfortable in possession and is a player that can construct attacks from deep. His average of 43.28 passes per 90 is only bettered by one of his team-mates.

Chema

In an underwhelming campaign for Levante, the 26-year-old has been one of the few strong presences for the club from Valencia.  

Chema spent time early in his career with Atlético Madrid but didn’t make a first-team appearance for the club. After a spell with Alcorcón he made a move to Levante in the summer of 2016 and was a key player in the side as they clinched promotion. 

Unlike some of his team-mates, he’s taken to life in the top flight effortlessly and has been a commanding figure in defence. Chema is a strong, assertive defender that doesn’t overcomplicate his duties in the backline.

Only two Levante players have averaged more clearances than him this season, 4.4 per 90, while he is also making 1.24 interceptions and 1.03 tackles.

He isn’t flashy in possession, which could perhaps be an issue for Rodgers, but has a skillset that would suit coming up against Celtic’s domestic challengers more than their European.

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