Posts Tagged ‘Lucas Perez’

Lucas

Lucas Pérez will be announced in the next 24 hours as an Arsenal player. As a Deportivo de la Coruña fan, I thought it right to scribble some musings on Lucas as a player.

You’ll read a lot in the coming days/weeks about Lucas from people who, quite frankly, watched him very little (if at all). I’m going to condense his history as a footballer into one small paragraph, since I assume most readers just want to know what kind of player he is and if he suits Arsenal.

Lucas is a Deportivo fan, born and bred. He used to sit in the stands with the Riazor Blues, now he represents the club (although not for long). He’s spent two phenomenal years at Depor, clinching goals that secured survival in back-to-back seasons. He even broke the club record of goals scored in consecutive games, toppling Brazilian legend Bebeto. Lucas performed against the biggest of clubs (as evidenced with two goals in two games at the Camp Nou), as well as the smallest of them too. To join Depor, Lucas had to travel around Europe first. When he did arrive, it included minimising his wage by triple and leaving a Champions League club (PAOK). The love and adoration he has for the club has also seen him turn down Leicester, Southampton, Napoli, Zenit & Sevilla this summer. But, when Arsenal come knocking, it’s hard to resist. Especially when you’re 27, at the peak of your game and performing at a club far smaller in current stature.

Now, about Lucas as a player. It says a lot that Arsene Wenger swooped in for the Spaniard after being turned down by Jamie Vardy. Stylistically, both are the same type of player: lean forwards with bags of speed and energy, always raring to break the defensive line and find themselves one-on-one. In fact, much like Vardy, Lucas suits the counter-attacking style of football. A style that Arsenal irregularly employ, which may be a sticking point. If Wenger does switch for this sort of style, which could be supported by the fact he’s chased down two identical strikers this summer, Arsenal may just have pulled off a bargain considering the current market. One interesting fact about Lucas is that he can speak English, having used it as a form of communication in Ukraine and Greece while plying his trade there.

“Lucas isn’t a prolific goal scorer” – that’s something you’ll be reading a lot over the coming days, supported of course by baseless statistics that don’t consider the fact that he only started playing as a striker last season. He’s often been an interior or attacking-midfielder, sticking close to the striker on his team. Arsenal have Olivier Giroud, a striker synonymous with performing at his best when he has a player that operates closely with him (Griezmann for France, occasionally Walcott for Arsenal). Lucas offers Wenger that duality in style: he can be the counter-attacking striker that punishes opposition defences or he can be a foil and creator for Giroud.

Lucas amassed eight assists and 17 goals last year. A career high. While that may seem measly in a time where footballers are filling their boots with 40+ goals per season, one has to consider the club. As a Deportivo fan, I have struggled in the last 5-6 years with strikers who end as top scorers for the club with just 7-10 goals. The issue they all have in common is a lack of creator in the side. Strikers are often forced to carve out their own chances here, so that’s a testament to Lucas’ comfortability and quality as a forward. He chases down possession, effortlessly carries the game forward and then applies a slick finishing touch. This, with no creator. Arsenal have Mesut Özil – a player crying out for more goal scorers to support – and the likes of a supporting cast of Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey etc. The list goes on. Lucas had virtually nobody last season, nor the season before that. He was plucking goals out of nothing, such as the one embedded below.

Lucas has also shown that he can bring the best out of players around him. Luis Alberto, for example, had his best season knocking in goals for Sevilla’s B team. At Liverpool & Málaga, he was fairly poor. At Depor, though, we saw the best of Luis Alberto. Why? Because Lucas, when working in tandem with another forward, is a fantastic footballer. And if he strikes this partnership with, say, Alexis or Giroud, then Arsenal fans are likely to be salivating come the end of the summer.

Am I saying he’s perfect for Arsenal? Not really. There are a few caveats. Will Wenger arrange the system around him? That’s one. But the other comes as part of Lucas’ main issue: he takes a few chances before he puts one away. That may frustrate some, but it’s also worth looking at the other side of things: will he score more if he’s less inclined to snap away at the half chances he creates and simply latch onto a perfectly weighted pass instead? Lucas also requires a bit of freedom if his game is to truly prosper. It’s far from clear what his role will be, but he is an upgrade on all of Arsenal’s wingers (bar Alexis) at the very least.

And, just briefly, since I mentioned Alexis, Arsenal fans will love Lucas Pérez for the same reason they love the Chilean. He works extremely hard – and not in an English “he runs about a bit” type. Lucas will bust a lung to revive a loose ball and, once he collects it, he will carry it forward. Unlike Alexis, though, Lucas is less of a dribbler so will look to release possession to a team-mate once he wins the ball back.

Is he perfect? No. And is he the striker Arsenal 100% wanted this summer? No. But I think he could prove to be an exceptional capture if, as aforementioned, the system is arranged to suit his game. He could be the perfect partner for Giroud and Alexis. Stylistically speaking, Wenger has a very versatile player on his hands that could be the key to saving what has been a miserable summer & start to the season.

 

I’d like to wish Lucas the best at Arsenal. Thank you for helping the city of A Coruña dream again; for the goals, the assists, the times you picked the team up from the rubble surrounding it. Thank you for that goal that sparked the revival against Barcelona that kept us up; the goal against Villarreal that also secured our safety the year after. Noraboa, boa sorte. 

My favourite Lucas Pérez moment: he tells Germán Lux that he will save Nolito’s penalty in the derby game, then tells Nolito he’s going to miss. Both things happen, and Lucas celebrates like this: 

Many will be familiar with the name Víctor Sánchez. After all, he was part of that golden generation of Deportivo players that won the Copa del Rey in 2002 at the Bernabeu. He may not be remembered for the flair of Djalminha or creativity of Juan Carlos Valerón, but he was the guy who would bust a lung to dominate the wings and always sustained a high level of productivity. Today, at the age of 39, he is the manager of the club in question: Dépor.

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Víctor lifting the Copa del Rey in 2002

Víctor returned to A Coruña on the 9th of April with the club in the relegation zone, having just sacked the underachieving Victor Fernandez. Dépor were in a rut, struggling to get points and failing to operate as a cohesive unit. Individualism was valued over unity and it was a major component of the club’s unsuccessful return to La Liga.

Víctor’s job was tough: keep Dépor in the top flight with only eight games to go. In those eight games, there were three prestigious opponents: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. His only loss in those three games came against Atléti, with two draws in the others to keep Dépor in La Liga. The final game, in fact, was away at Barcelona. Los Blanquiazules were 2-0 down at half-time… 2-0 down with 23 minutes to go. Fast-forward to the final whistle and Dépor were celebrating on the Camp Nou pitch. Lucas Pérez and Salomão scored in the final 20 minutes to turn the game on its head and keep Los Blanquiazules in the Spanish Primera. It was a game of pure ecstasy, but Víctor was the puppeteer.

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Lucas and Víctor embrace at the full-time whistle

The 39-year-old’s arrival filled everyone with hope – from the fans, right down to the players. It was his first job as a manager and his hunger was clear to see. He immediately instilled a sense of belief in the changing rooms and the turnaround in performance levels was staggering. Take Salomão, the scorer of the goal that kept Dépor in the top flight, for example: he had barely featured all season, with the previous manager discarding him from the squad due to personal disagreements. He had no reason to play with such heart, desire and tenacity, but Víctor awoke those traits from within him and exploited them to turn the club’s fortunes around. It is those minute details that help define a coach, and that is precisely why he is being heralded as the brightest young manager in the country. To undergo your first job with heaps of pressure and come out of the other end unscathed and adored is undeniably impressive.

In the summer, Víctor worked closely with club president Tino Fernandez. The idea was to avoid making the same mistakes as in previous years: purchasing washed up journeymen and exhausting a partnership with super agent Jorge Mendes. The club wanted a fresh recruitment policy and the 39-year-old delivered just that. He went out of his way to bring Lucas Pérez back to A Coruña after a flawless loan spell – the striker needed little persuading, having grown up in the city as a supporter of the club. He made the decision to pick up some of the better, discarded players in Spain rather than going abroad for relative unknowns on the cheap. Thus Fernando Navarro, Fayçal Fajr, Pedro Mosquera, Alejandro Arribas, Cani, Fede Cartabia and Luis Alberto. These were players available on a free or happy to move on loan – their one thing in common? They all play in Spain. Víctor wisely opted for the more secure choices that would instill stability and immediate results to a Dépor devoid of that. His final signings: Borges, Riera, Sidnei and Juanfran were all returning to the club after loan spells the season prior. Jonathan Rodriguez and Jonas Gutierrez were the black sheep, arriving from Portugal and England respectively. The entire squad, bar Lucas, was assembled for zilch – with this crop of players, Víctor has taken the Galician club to unfathomable heights.

This season, Víctor has proceeded to amplify the quality of every single player in the side; he squeezes 15% more out of each individual. Moroccan midfielder Fajr was a fairly good – bordering on mediocre – player reaching his late 20s at Elche. Under the Spanish coach, he is now #9 in the list for chances created in La Liga. Furthermore, he has been capped by the Moroccan national team for the first time due to his outstanding club performances.

If our focus shifts to Mosquera, the same has occurred. He was a good defensive-midfielder at Elche, having failed to make an impact at Real Madrid, but now he is widely regarded as one of the best defensive-midfielders in Spain. He is constantly battling for possession, providing cover for his defence while also mixing it up with his passing to create chances. He has become integral to the way Dépor operate as a unit.

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Mosquera on presentation day

Lastly, and while there are other examples, none shines brightest than the Lucas one. Lucas was great in the 14/15 season, scoring some important goals amidst battling with recurring injuries. He scored six all season. As of now, he has 11 league goals in 15 games; his name is being widespread and campaigned in favour of a Spain cap & a trip to France for the 2016 European Championships.

All three of the aforementioned players are 27 years of age and were largely unknown on a grand scale up until this season. Víctor has catapulted them to humble stardom where they now transcend the opinions of their fan base and are widely accepted to be fantastic footballers.

It isn’t just his man-management or astute transfer policy that has helped him succeed. No, it is also down to his tactical flexibility. Víctor toys with different formations and player roles to exploit an opponent’s weakness pre-game and even during it. He started the 2015/16 season with an explosive attacking side that was scoring regularly and playing with no fear away from home. Yet in those extremely tough fixtures, the Spaniard shakes things up and plays with four full-backs to nullify the opposition’s overload on the flanks. It forces teams to move to the centre – where Dépor defend at their best with Mosquera, Sidnei and Arribas gobbling up possession regularly.

Víctor’s most impressive trait is the manner in which he meticulously analyses the opposition. Not only in-game, where he regularly adapts to the rival’s moves, but pre-game too. In fact, that is where he shines brightest. For the goalkeepers, he makes them watch the previous game of the upcoming opponent to see how they were shooting and from where. By doing this, it increases the goalkeeper’s awareness and gives him an edge over the rival players. It was successful most recently when Dépor triumphed in the Galician derby, with Germán Lux stopping Nolito’s penalty and his trademark technique of cutting inside and curling shots.

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Lux celebrates stopping Nolito’s penalty

With the strikers, he trains them all together and has them playing in different combinations to exploit an opposition’s weakness. Lucas is always the mainstay, boasting the ability to drop deep and carry the ball forward with blistering pace and technique. His partner differs from the towering Riera to the rapid and diminutive Jonathan. If he expects the opposition to deploy a high-line, he assembles Lucas and Jonathan together. If he is expecting a more combative game, then Riera joins Lucas to impose his physicality over the opposition’s defence.

Some managers attempt combinations, but fail to analyse the opposition’s recent games in-depth to truly determine how they will operate. Víctor’s attention to detail intertwines with a willingness to succeed and that is the key component to Dépor’s revival this season.

As of now, Víctor has undergone 26 games at Dépor losing a mere four times. He has won eight and drawn 14 – some of which have been against the more bigger clubs in the country: Atlético, Barcelona (twice), Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic (twice). When he returned to A Coruña he said, “This is a club that has suffered a lot. I want to bring hope back to Dépor.” He has done just that, and then some. Not only has he upped the belief and faith of everyone at the club, but he has allowed the entire city to dream of bigger and better things. For once, the dark cloud that has surrounded the club for the last seven years is beginning to disperse into sunlight.

Expect to hear the name ‘Víctor Sánchez’ roll off the tongue of many in the coming years from all corners of the footballing world. His ceiling is impossible to predict and he boasts the greatest of tools to succeed in the game. An adaptable, tactically savvy man-manager that can mastermind positive results with his impressive attention to detail, the sky really is the limit for the young Spaniard.