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Midfielder of the season in La Liga? How Lo Celso has exploded as Argentina’s new young talent

10:08 PM MYT 23/04/2019
Giovanni Lo Celso Rennes Betis UEFA Europa League 14022019
The 22-year-old promise has thrived in his favoured position further up the field and proved to PSG they were wrong to cut him loose

Argentina's search for a top-quality midfielder who can both provide and score goals has been long and fruitless since the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Esteban Cambiasso and Pablo Aimar ended their international careers.

But hope has been renewed now in the shape of Giovani Lo Celso, the swashbuckling Betis star who has taken La Liga by storm in 2018-19. 

Still just 23, expectations are huge for the Rosario native, who now has the chance to succeed where stars such as Javier Pastore, Erik Lamela and Manuel Lanzini have fallen short and offer a real option as the link between the Albiceleste's midfield and attack. 

The current season started with less than positive news for Lo Celso.

Despite a decent campaign in 2017-18, the Argentine found himself surplus to requirements under new boss Thomas Tuchel, who shipped him out on loan to Betis in a deal that included a purchase option worth €22 million (£19m/$25m). 

Other, less resilient players might have lost heart after such a setback, but the midfielder took it firmly in his stride.

He has hit back with a fantastic return with the Seville side, who despite lacking consistency over the course of the year have played some scintillating football under Quique Setien and perhaps deserve more than their current ninth place standing. 

Lo Celso has been at the heart of everything positive about Betis' season. With nine and five goals respectively he is the club's top scorer in both La Liga and the Europa League, with a further two strikes in the Copa del Rey bringing him up to an extremely impressive 16 for the term.

Indeed, on a league-wide level, only three players have scored more from midfield than the former PSG man. With a little more assistance from Betis' misfiring strike-force the club could easily be looking at least a Europa League finish, but optimism is nevertheless high around the Benito Villamarin thanks to a young, hungry squad. 

Having been rewarded for his form with a permanent move last week, Lo Celso is ideally placed to lead the charge and make sure the coming season is even better for Betis.

"[Betis] are in a situation that isn't ideal at the moment, but we will fight until the end," the youngster signalled at his presentation.

"We know what the club represent, what they aspire to and the goals that we set ourselves at the beginning of the season.

"Luckily this year I scored a lot, but the most important thing is trying to help the team."

Setien's tactical tinkering and ever-offensive outlook has been key in getting the best out of his young charge. As a prospect at Rosario Central, Lo Celso excelled in a role just behind solitary striker Marco Ruben, but upon arriving in Europe he saw his position become even more withdrawn.

At Betis, though, he has been restored to his favoured advanced spot and the results have been spectacular. Indeed, given the travails of fellow Argentina man Leandro Paredes in settling in to life at PSG the new Ligue 1 champions may well be regretting their decision to let Lo Celso go for a comparatively cut-price fee.

The question will be how long they can hope to hold on to his abilities.

European football now looks unlikely for Betis after a series of damaging defeats, and while the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid are yet to make any formal approach for the Argentine if they do wield their mighty chequebooks a sizeable offer would be extremely difficult to turn down.

Back in his native Argentina, those in charge of the national team would do well to pay attention. In his Albiceleste appearances to date the player has tended to fulfil one half of a double pivot function alongside Paredes, with mixed results so far as Lionel Scaloni looks to revamp a new-look side.

If Scaloni can make room for Lo Celso further up the pitch, perhaps forming a potent creative axis with Messi, he can help provide the spark that has been so sorely lacking in Argentina over the past few years.

If this past season at Betis has proved anything it is that the playmaker has talent to spare and the drive to make his presence felt in the final third.

The Seville outfit may have struggled to turn fluid football into goals and wins but Lo Celso has come through this test with flying colours, to the extent that he is a serious candidate to be dubbed La Liga's finest midfielder for 2018-19.