Spain’s underrated second division continues producing excellent talent year in year out.
By the time that Borussia Dortmund had decided to pick up Mikel Merino from the Segunda Division, he had already made more than 50 first-team appearances across two seasons.
Thomas Tuchel identified in Merino the kind of talent who could grow into something exciting under his tutelage. That did not come to pass, however. Now, a 24-year old Merino is excelling instead, for Real Sociedad in La Liga.
Bigger teams in La Liga have taken advantage of the Segunda Division to test the mettle of many of their own youth products. For example, Alvaro Morata spent three seasons across Spain’s 3rd and 2nd division before making the step up to the first team.
More recent examples include Barcelona star, Pedri. The diminutive midfielder made the move from the Canary Islands to Catalunya after spending a year dazzling opposition defences in the Segunda Division.
Gonzalo Villar is another who made the step-up directly to a top club.Moving to Roma after spending the first six seasons of his career in the 2nd and 3rd tier of Spanish football. Rejecting strong interest from Valencia, he ended up going straight to Roma who pushed harder than anyone else for his signature.
FTF picks out five players who could enjoy similar fates in the coming months and make the step up as a potential signing for bigger clubs across Europe –
Espanyol look well set for promotion at the end of the season and could well end up as the Segunda Division champions barring any late-slip ups.
They’ve scored more goals than any other team in the division this season, 58 in total. In Raul De Tomas, Adri Embarba, and Javi Puado, they have one of the league’s most potent trio of attackers.
Of the three, the young Javi Puado is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
The 22-year old has seven goals and seven assists so far in 30 matches played. This places him 3rd amongst others in his position across the division.
In terms of expected goals per 90, which measures the quality of a goal-scoring chance, he ranks 4th best in the Segunda Division (0.25).
A significant number of goals have come from headers, as a result of clever movement in the box and attacking the spaces between defenders.
Cutting inside from either flank and mostly being deployed on the left, Puado thrives when attacking the box.
The Spaniard may not be the most exciting to watch in terms of his dribbles, averaging about 3.4 dribbles per90. He is, however, usually successful whenever he dribbles which is underlined by his dribble success rate of 61%.
Not someone who is particularly adept at contributing in build-up, Puado is a dangerous presence closer to the penalty area.
Raul De Tomas is the main man when it comes to scoring goals for the team, which is probably why Puado doesn’t have a lot of shots. Averaging about 1.74 per90 with an accuracy of 48%.
When you look at ball progression, Puado does not particularly stand out. This may be down to the fact that most of the Spaniard’s actions occur in and around the penalty area.
His heatmap shows a high amount of activity further up the pitch and also close to the goalmouth.
His versatility also makes him a vital asset for club and country on the pitch.
Most recently, he scored for the Spanish U21 side at the U21 European Championships against Slovenia. A thumping volley from the edge of the penalty area which left the keeper with little chance to save it.
Espanyol look well set for promotion from the Segunda Division this season. It’d be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing in La Liga. A full season in the Spanish top-flight might just be the best immediate step for his career.
Umar Sadiq is only 24, but his career has already seen quite a lot.
Currently excelling with Almeria in the Segunda Division, this is the fifth country he’s played in. Previously playing in Italy, Netherlands, Scotland and Serbia.
In Serbia, he set the league alight with 17 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. That is perhaps why Almeria’s owner Turki Al Sheikh and the recruitment team at Almeria identified him as the perfect replacement for outgoing striker Darwin Nunez.
The club has gone through a great transformation since Turki Al Sheikh took over and after making the play-offs last season, they will hope to go one better and seal their promotion by finishing in second place.
Sadiq’s goals have been pivotal to Almeria’s push for promotion. With 15 goals to his name, he is the third in the scoring charts of La Liga SmartBank behind De Tomas and Uroš Đurđević of Sporting Gijon.
Standing at 6’4” tall, Sadiq can be quite a daunting prospect to mark for defenders.
“He’s a striker who disrupts opposition centre-backs, who has quality, who is very strong and who can score goals.”– Jose Manuel Gomes, Almeria manager
He certainly continues to live up to those words from his manager.
Sadiq can attack the opposition in a variety of ways and his height and physique helps him in more ways than one.
Whether it is playing off the shoulder of the last man in defence, running the channel or acting as a focal point by dropping deep, Sadiq has shown the ability to do it all.
He may not come across as very pacy, however, he doesn’t need to. His long legs help him cover greater distances than his markers with the ball. It also makes him hard to get the ball off of, once he is in full stride.
Coming to his numbers, Sadiq stands out in every possible way for a striker.
He is best in the league for Expected Goals per90 with 0.61. He also averages over 2 shots per90 with an accuracy rate of 48%.
No striker is more active in the opposition penalty box than Sadiq, the Nigerian averages 4.01 touches per90.
He can also be deceptively quick with his feet and averages over 5.86 dribbles per90 with a success rate of about 39%.
There is no doubt that Sadiq’s level is better than the Segunda Division. If he is able to replicate his numbers in La Liga (assuming that Almeria achieve promotion), potential suitors will be on the prowl once again.
Club: Sporting Gijon
Position: Central midfielder
Sporting Gijon’s Pedro Diaz is the heartbeat of Gijon’s midfield and is the next name on FTF’s list.
The Spaniard is one of the standout U23 midfielders in the league. Only Andres Martin(0.49) from Rayo Vallecano averages more goals and assists per90 than Pedro Diaz(0.40).
Diaz is all action in midfield personified. The main features of his game is to allow attacking players around him to flourish, and also contribute when he can.
In terms of his offensive output, Diaz really needs to work on his shot selection and probably help the team better if he shots from better locations. An Expected Goals per90 tally of 0.09 just goes to show that his 1.5 shots averaged per90 are coming from poor locations. Though, he is capable of the odd screamer, which he showed against Rayo Vallecano in a 1-0 victory.
Diaz looks to spring forward often during games when there is space to do so. He averages about 2 progressive runs per90 which is the best amongst U23 midfielders in the league. He isn’t too shabby with his passing either, averaging about 6.5 progressive passes per90 with a success rate of 81%.
Another impressive facet to his game is his pin-point delivery from set-pieces, which is where most of his assists have come from.
He is highly revered amongst the Sporting fanbase having come through the academy. It will be interesting to see if any La Liga side tests Gijon’s intentions of keeping him, clearly this is a player who can offer something useful to sides higher up in the ladder of Spanish football.
Club: UD Logroñés
Position: Centre Back
When it comes to defenders in the Segunda Division, few are as brave on the ball and as progressive as Enrique “Kike” Clemente.
The Real Zaragoza loanee looks like a very promising defender and one to keep an eye on in the Segunda Division.
Logrones are not one of the most ball dominant teams in the division, which makes Clemente’s numbers all the more impressive.
As his heatmap clearly shows, much of his actions come from close to the halfway line.
Defensively, Clemente does not stand out in his age bracket of U23 Centre backs. With 6.86 Possession-adjusted defensive actions averaged per90, there are still many ahead of him in that respect.
However, where he does stand out in a hugely impressive way is his numbers in terms of ball progression.
As compared to his positional peers in the U23 age bracket, Clemente averages more progressive carries with the ball per90 than any other defender(2.07). Additionally, he is also most successful with his ball progression via passing averaging about 9.7 progressive passes per90 with a success rate of 81%.
The majority of Clemente’s passes look to progress the ball down the left flank, however, he is capable to picking out runners towards the right channel as well.
In terms of passes completed into the final 3rd as well, he comes out highly. Only Jorge Cuenca is more successful with a success rate of 86% than Clemente’s 72%.
Clemente’s excellent numbers make him a prime target for any side across the Segunda Division or the lower half of La Liga sides looking for a ball-playing centre back.
Club: Rayo Vallecano
Position: Left back
Our last pick for the piece is Real Madrid loanee Fran Garcia, currently plying his trade at Rayo Vallecano.
A product of Real Madrid’s La Fabrica academy and capped at multiple youth levels for Spain, Fran Garcia is certainly one of the best young left backs in the Segunda Division.
Having played over 2500 minutes overall for the season, Garcia is a firmly established starter at Rayo. And with good reason too.
Garcia is very much a full-back who enjoys playing on the front foot and is quite industrious as well in getting up and down the left flank. Barcelona fans will remember him from the Copa del Rey clash between the two sides in January when he scored the opener.
The strongest facet of his repertoire of his skills is his ability to progress the ball. The 21-year old averages about 3.6 progressive runs per90. Which is more than any other U23 fullback across the division.
In addition to that, he also attempts about 8.3 progressive passes per90 with a decent success rate of 68%.
Standing at 5’7” in height, the Spaniard is well capable of holding his own in terms of his defensive work. Averaging around 7 possession-adjusted interceptions per90, he is able to sniff out and anticipate opposition-threat.
And not just that, Garcia also wins about 54% of his aerial duels. Which is impressive when you consider that fullbacks generally are not expected to be good at winning aerial battles.
Garcia’s crossing is another weapon in his arsenal. He averages about 4.6 crosses per90 and also has 1.2 deep completed crosses per90. Deep completed crosses are essentially crosses that end up in dangerous areas within the penalty box.
Those who watch him week in week out will know Garcia’s penchant for dribbling. Attempting close to 3 dribbles per90 with a success rate of 66%.
First-team opportunities at Real Madrid may prove hard to come by for Garcia. Though, there is little doubt that there will be plenty of suitors interested in signature from La Liga.
All numbers from Wyscout accurate upto April 12, 2021.
Enjoyed this article? If you wish to support the work we do, you can make a donation.