Manchester City

Injury unlikely to make Roberts a distant memory in Spain

 • by Adam Newson
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Football can be a cruel game. And Patrick Roberts, on loan at Girona from Manchester City, discovered that this week.

He was the toast of Spain after his excellent performance in his side’s 1-1 draw with Atlético Madrid last Sunday. Marca described the forward as a “marvel” and told La Liga fans to “remember the name” as the former England youth international had a bright future.

On Wednesday, Roberts started on the bench for his side’s Copa del Rey second leg clash with Alavés. But with Girona behind on aggregate, he was introduced with 21 minutes to play.

Ten minutes later, the Catalan side led 2-1. Roberts had created their second of the night and had impressed.

As the game moved into stoppage time, Alavés piled players forward in search of an equaliser. They were exposed to any counter-attack and, in the 90th minute, a pass was played out to Roberts who had a free run on goal from his own half.

However, just as he got into his stride, Roberts pulled up, held his hamstring and then fell to the ground. He was immediately brought off and it’s feared Roberts will be ruled out until January.

If those fears become reality it will be a bitter pill for Roberts to swallow. After slow start to life in Spain – there were even stories his loan would be cut short in January – the 21-year-old had established himself as a vital cog in the Girona side.

Early pain in Spain

There is little doubt 2018 has been a landmark year for young English players. No longer content to sit around and wait for an opportunity at their club, several have opted to move abroad in search of regular game time.

The majority of these players have headed to the Bundesliga; think Jadon Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Reiss Nelson. The fast-paced nature of the football in Germany makes it an ideal proving ground for those hoping to one day shine in the Premier League.

La Liga, however, is different. The game is less frenetic and technique is king. So by deciding to head to Girona, especially after two seasons on loan with Celtic, Roberts took a risk.

“There are not many players that go abroad, especially English players,” he told the BBC earlier this month. “You can’t discredit going abroad and obviously learning a new lifestyle, a new culture and a new style of playing football in a different league.”

Yet Roberts had to be patient. His first two months at Girona were mainly spent as a substitute. There were sporadic short cameo appearances but the former Fulham youngster wasn’t able to make a big impact.

A chance to flourish

An injury to first-choice No.10 Portu at the start of November presented Roberts with an opportunity. And it’s one he grasped.

His first start for the club came against Valencia at Mestalla. He made a decisive impact.

Just after half time, with the game goalless, Roberts collected the ball 30 yards out. He skipped past Gabriel Paulista’s challenge and drilled a low shot across goal. Neto got a had to the effort but only deflected it to Pere Pons, who swept the ball home.

Girona went on to see the game out. Roberts had made his mark and, with Portu still out, started the next two matches, a draw with Leganes and a victory over Espanyol.

Ahead of the clash with Atlético Madrid, Portu returned from injury. Yet Roberts had impressed Eusebio Sacristán and retained his place.

As touched upon above, the English youngster shone against Atleti, who had a makeshift defence which included Saúl at left-back. He constantly found space between the lines, no easy feat against Diego Simeone’s side, and escaped the attention of opponents who attempted to close him down.

“Big teams like Valencia, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico, these are the teams you want to be playing against,” he added in his interview with the BBC.

“I feel I am improving. It was a great idea [to join Girona] and I don’t regret my decisions ever in my life. I just have to work hard to make the best of it.”

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That attitude will serve Roberts well as he recovers from his injury. And when he does return he will once again have to fight his way back into this starting XI.

He should take comfort, however, from the numbers he posted in his ten La Liga appearances this term. Admittedly within a small sample size – 363 minutes – Roberts was proving himself one of the most dangerous players will the ball in the Spanish top flight.

His dribbles per 90 of 4.71 is the second highest total of any midfielder in the division. While he is seventh for touches in the opposition box per 90 (5.20) and twelfth for accurate through balls per 90 (0.24).

Those numbers suggest that when Roberts returns to full fitness – if given another opportunity in the Girona side – he can continue to impress in La Liga.

So while he may be absent for some time, it’s unlikely Spanish football fans will forget the name Patrick Roberts any time soon.

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