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‘Slovakian Xavi’ should be on Premier League radars

 • by David Cartlidge
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If it wasn’t for that typical Slavic name, you would forgive someone for thinking Stanislav Lobotka had come through a Spanish youth academy. Alas, he comes from Trenčín, a Slovakian town with a population of just under 57,000.

Despite only arriving at Celta Vigo this past summer, Lobotka has set about making himself one of the most exciting midfielders in Spain. So much so, there have even been comparisons to the admittedly incomparable Sergio Busquets.

Scouting trips from Barcelona earlier in the season to several of Celta’s games set tongues wagging, and interest in the Slovakian has been growing rapidly ever since with Inter the latest to be linked.

His fellow countryman Milan Skriniar, who is with the Italian club, revealed he gave Luciano Spalletti the inside track on the midfielder. He is not hopeful of Lobotka arriving anytime soon however, insisting to Slovakian media that if he will end up anywhere in the near future it will be Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Celta were assertive in the protection of their latest asset, however. In January, they handed Lobotka a new deal until 2022, a reward for both his progression and show of loyalty to the club. It also included a significant rise in his release clause to ward off any further interest. He undoubtedly made the right decision, with Celta proving to be an excellent club for progressing as a player before potentially seeking out a bigger move. They play attractive football, offer La Liga as a platform to shine and give regular first team minutes should a player show encouraging signs.

Who is Lobotka?

Lobotka was identified by Celta as a standout performer at the European Under-21 Championships last summer with his native Slovakia. Despite their early exit from the tournament, Lobotka had shown enough to convince the Spanish side he would be an astute purchase. The club’s sporting director, Felipe Minambres, had been made aware of Lobotka’s talents while in Denmark with Nordsjælland.

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Celta’s record with Scandinavian-linked signings, as well as Balkan players, has become a feature over recent seasons due to the financial constraints they have had to work with as players from the are can be acquired without having to pay a premium.

There appears to be another special case with Lobotka and even in the short amount of time he’s demonstrated his talent impressively. A brief bedding in period was required before the midfielder became a regular in the team, and he now gives off the impression of a player who has been playing in La Liga for years. 

What are his strengths?

Lobotka’s capacity to control and understand the tempo of games has undoubtedly been a stand out feature of his time with Celta. He has that classic attribute of always having his head on the swivel, allowing him to read the game effortlessly and make careful, precise judgements. It was a key trait of Xavi’s game when at Barcelona and Lobotka also bares resemblance in how when he receives the ball he can pirouette and spin into another direction, before circulating possession.

As we enter the final stretch of the season, Lobotka has made 1633 passes – completing 1480 of them. His pass accuracy of 90.6 per cent is the eighth-highest in Spain’s top flight and even more impressive given that he’s making on average of 62.3 passes per 90 minutes.

While he often knits together play and keeps things simple, he is always looking to be positive with his passing with 508 of them of the forward type this season. This is in contrast with just the 240 going backwards.  He’s also capable of playing it long too, and is making 4.9 of them on average per 90. His ability to stretch play, pick out diagonals and open up the field has been excellent at times in an attempt to move a Celta team that can become bogged down at times, up the field.

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It’s not just constructing play that Lobotka is adept in. Although Nemanja Radoja’s re-introduction into the team over Pablo Hernandez has created a stronger spine throughout the Celta team, Lobotka is still aware defensively. He’s contributed to that end with on average 1.6 tackles per 90, while also being aware of opponent attacking transitions and has nipped in to provide 1.1 interceptions on average.

This versatility has made Lobotka stand out because while he is more often than not a key part of Celta’s passing structure, in which many attacks begin with him, he’s also capable of handling himself without the ball. He’s smart enough to be aware of danger and hold certain positions, while also physically able enough to actually put a foot in.

What are his weaknesses?

Physical aspects stand out as being problem areas. Lobotka’s neither the strongest or quickest, but often instead tries to be one step ahead of opponents with his brilliant reading of the game and general vision.

He’s a smart, calculated midfielder that likes to read moves ahead and this can cover up those weak physical areas – if they are intact even that weak overall.

Should Premier League clubs be interested?

Lobotka’s intelligence in games would allow him to dictate play in any league. He’s more clever than the average midfielder and while he does lack a slight bit of his pace his sharpness would allow him to navigate out of trouble. A side having trouble when in situations that they need to regain control of games, or close out victories, would be wise to take a close look at the player.

A new contract includes a clause of €50million but it would be surprising Celta if there wasn’t some negotiation available. Los Célticos are known to be open when dealing with clubs over transfers and a fee of around €30million to €40million would probably be enough to take Lobotka away.

Slovakian Busquets or Xavi? There are shades of both there but Lobotka is his own man, and one with plenty of style.

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