Ian Morris of @CeltaUSA (give him a follow) might be my favorite non-Villarreal fan to have on the site. He joined us on the podcast last year just as all the pandemic stuff was shutting down football and he offers an incredibly insightful look inside his club every time we talk. Here’s our latest conversation:
Q: How many forwards (if any) in La Liga are actually better than Iago Aspas and what makes him so good despite being 33?
A: I might be biased, but I don’t think there are any forwards better than Iago Aspas in La Liga right now outside of Leo Messi. Aspas is so special because of his vision of the game, his knack for goal, and his preternatural passing ability. Despite not being the biggest or most physically gifted player, Aspas is always in the right place at the right time. A deadly left foot and the ability to provide scoring chances to teammates make him a nightmare for opposing defenders, and he will be sorely missed in Friday’s match.
Editor’s note: He’s no Gerard Moreno, but he’s pretty good.
Q: Eduardo Coudet has completely changed the outlook of your season already, what do you think about his appointment?
A: Coudet has been a miracle worker, taking a side that looked dead and deflated and injecting them with confidence thanks to a new 4-1-3-2 scheme that utilizes Celta’s roster to its best potential. It was always going to be risky appointing a coach without any experience in Europe, as we’ve seen far too many of them fail to adapt. However, Coudet has proven himself up to the task and has transformed Celta from relegation fodder to an exciting, competitive squad.
Q: What has changed tactically for Celta since Coudet took over the club?
A. While Oscar Garcia never seemed to be able to settle on a formation or tactics he liked during his tenure at Celta, oscillating between conservative 5-3-2 and 4-4-2 formations with occasional variants and slow, agonizing build-up play, Coudet has a clear scheme and idea. His 4-1-3-2 relies on high pressing, quick ball movement, and loading the center of the pitch with players while attacking, taking advantage of players like Denis Suarez, Iago Aspas, Nolito, and Brais Mendez’s skill on the ball.
Coudet wants to win the possession battle because of his side’s overload of players in the front half, but oftentimes, it’s the quick counter-attacks and ball recoveries in the opponent’s half of the field which leads to his team’s goals. Celta is more vulnerable to opposing team’s counter-attacks now too, but his idea is clear: hold onto the ball, try to create goal-scoring chances by overloading the center of the pitch, and put tons of pressure on opponents if they get the ball on Celta’s half of the field and hope they give up the ball.
Q. Do you think this side can make the Europa League?
A. I don’t think Celta has much of a shot of qualifying for the Europa League. While the club is on a good run of form, injuries are and will probably continue to be a problem based on Coudet’s frenetic play style. Celta has a very short roster and I think a dip in form is likely, though I also don’t expect to be involved in the relegation battle. Realistically, Celta can’t hope to compete for an EL spot with Sevilla, Villarreal, and Real Sociedad because we don’t have the depth to keep up. I do think Celta could have an outside shot of competing 7th place with teams like Granada and Athletic for a spot in next season’s new Conference League competition, though, if injuries don’t pile up.
Q: It’s not often that a player signed because of a goalkeeper emergency ends up being a crucial part of your offense but how has Nolito rejuvenated his career so far this season?
A: Nolito isn’t the player that made him a La Liga sensation with Celta from 2013 to 2016 anymore, but he has had a nice rebound year after some struggles at Manchester City and Sevilla. He and Iago Aspas have played together for a while, and it shows, as they always seem to anticipate where the other will be. Nolito is incredibly positionally-aware, and gets himself positioned for chances in front of the goal with regularity. His right foot isn’t what it once was and he’s lost a step, but he has been a valuable addition to the attack.
Q: Renato Tapia’s ability to transition to La Liga after so many years in the Netherlands has impressed me. What qualities does he bring to the side?
A: Tapia has been Celta’s second-most important player this season after coming over on what must be one of the top free transfer signings in all of Europa last summer. I’m not sure how he didn’t shine more for Feyenoord, because he has been an absolute sensation for the Sky Blues. He is the perfect deep-lying midfielder for Coudet’s scheme, offering help to the back line in defense, intercepting passes and stopping attackers dead in their tracks before they reach the penalty box. Not only this, but he’s good at organizing and starting Celta’s counter-attacks from the back half. His gas tank never seems to run out, and all of this has combined to make him one of the league’s breakout stars this season at the age of 25.
Q: Talk to me about the fall out from that last Copa Del Rey match.
A: Celta definitely goes into Friday’s match with some bad energy after being embarrassed in the second round of the Copa del Rey 5-2 by Ibiza. The Balearic side might be the best outfit in Segunda B, and they showed it against a Celta side that chose to go with only one habitual starter in its starting 11. Defensive mistakes, a lack of synergy between non-regular players, and a rested and inspired Ibiza side put the game out of reach in the first half despite a Celta team that dominated the second 45 minutes. It’s a cold dose of reality for Celta and a reminder of just how short this roster is.
Q: Score Prediction for Villarreal/Celta?
A: A Celta team without Iago Aspas and Nolito is going to have a hard time generating scoring chances, especially against a team of Villarreal’s caliber. The absence of the suspended Renato Tapia leaves Celta without 3 of its key players, and I don’t think we have much of a shot at winning due to just how short the squad is. I predict a 0-1 Villarreal victory with a Gerard Moreno goal in the 62nd minute. I hope I’m wrong, though!