If Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has seen anything of Lazio this season, it would stand to reason that he would be quietly smiling to himself.
While the likes of Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic have been grabbing the headlines, his former Liverpool signing Luis Alberto has also been dazzling the crowds at the Stadio Olimpico with some superb performances.
“He’s another Philippe Coutinho-type,” Rodgers told the Metro newspaper when Alberto arrived at Anfield from Sevilla back in 2013.
“We brought young Coutinho in January when he was 20 years of age, but he had good experience and, more importantly, fitted the profile of what we’re trying to do here and what we’re trying to build. Young Luis is exactly the same – a talented, very highly-rated young player.”
Yet that assessment would prove to be unfounded – in the Premier League at least – as the Spaniard made just nine total appearances for the Reds and was sold to Lazio for just €4 million after having been loaned out to Malaga and Deportivo La Coruna.
Now at the age of 25, something has changed for the attacker and his excellent performances under the tutelage of Simone Inzaghi have led to reports of interest from Barcelona and whispers of a World Cup call-up for Spain.
Such rumours of interest from the Catalan giants don’t seem to be without basis as the Sevilla youth product spent time on loan to the Barcelona B side, where he made 38 appearances and scored 11 goals.
This tally was second only to team-mate Gerard Deulofeu, but the Blaugrana decided not to take up the option to sign him permanently despite his early promise.
Now with the prospect of losing club legend Andrés Iniesta to China in the summer, Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport revealed that Barca sent scouts to watch Alberto during the Rome derby on April 15th.
He would fail to make a measurable impact during a 31 minute appearance in that match that would end up a goalless draw, but those officials cannot have failed to have noticed the impact he has made on a Lazio side that have scored 83 domestic goals this season.
Luis Alberto vs. Hellas Verona. [@falsecb]
The Andalusian forward has fit like a glove into Inzhagi’s system, replacing Keita Baldé with ease and leading them in the fight for Champions League football. pic.twitter.com/cn1Al5R6Of
— BTL Comps (@BTLComps) February 20, 2018
A total of 12 goals and 17 assists so far in all competitions this term has beaten anything achieved before by a long way, especially considering the Spaniard made just four Serie A starts the season before, netting just once.
The former Liverpool flop would also become the first player in Italy’s top division to reach double figures in both categories this season, an incredible achievement considering the wealth of attacking talent in the division.
With this in mind, Lazio extended his deal to 2022 in January, perhaps aware of the interest from other clubs that lay ahead.
“He arrived at the end of the transfer market in 2016 after preseason with Liverpool,” agent Alvaro Torres told Radio Crc once the contract had been signed.
“He also had other offers, but let’s just say that he found it hard adapting to his new life in Rome. However, his qualities emerged towards the end of last season and he’s gone on to explode this year. We’ll only talk in the summer. His qualities were visible for years before, but it’s difficult for him to leave Lazio.”
Just one week after being visited by those scouts from Barcelona, Alberto put in a star performance in a crazy match versus Fiorentina. He would score two goals and provide one assist in a 4-3 win over the Viola, and he was certainly the best performer for the away side that night.
According to StatsZone, he completed 26/38 of his passes in the attacking third that night, the most of any player on either side. In a match that was end to end and finished with a total of seven goals that figure was impressive indeed, and was in addition to creating five chances for team mates – again the highest figure of anyone on the pitch.
Luis Alberto would win all three take-ons and put in three successful crosses along with four corners that reached the intended target, linking up well with Felipe Anderson and Lucas Leiva.
Performances such as these show exactly why reports have emerged of a surprise call-up to the Spain World Cup squad, after the player only made his debut for the national team in November 2017.
If he were to continue his form in Russia this summer, Lazio could be looking at a fee in excess of the quoted €30 million that they are currently said to be looking for, and there are still four domestic matches remaining for Luis Alberto to continue to shine. It’s looking more and more like Brendan Rodgers may have been right all along.