Iago Aspas: Liverpool flop to Spain's deadliest frontman

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A forgettable stint at Anfield has been pushed to the back of the mind of a striker excelling at Celta Vigo and preparing for a World Cup challenge

On January 5, 2014, Liverpool saw off Oldham Athletic 2-0 in an FA Cup third round tie at Anfield.

Hardly a contest to live long in the memory, but a forgettable game is notable for a forgettable goal from the most forgettable of Reds signings.

Iago Aspas found the target just once during a sorry stint on Merseyside, with that solitary effort coming in the 54th minute of the aforementioned cup clash with Oldham.

Around £7.7 million was invested in the Spaniard, with Liverpool hoping to have unearthed a diamond in the Liga rough.

Just one season had been spent among the elite in his homeland with Celta Vigo, with a 25-goal haul in a successful promotion campaign followed by 12 efforts at the highest level in 2012-13.

Brendan Rodgers had seen enough to suggest that Aspas would be a useful addition to an attacking arsenal which already included Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, but this Spanish fancy turned out to be more Fernando Morientes than Fernando Torres.

The lasting memory for Liverpool supporters of a recruitment experiment gone wrong is not that of a goal against Oldham, but of a corner swept straight to Willian on the edge of the box as Premier League title dreams disintegrated in front of The Kop against Chelsea.

Steven Gerrard may have slipped, but the mistakes of a legend are quickly forgiven.

Not so those of a man who came, saw little and conquered nothing.

Aspas told The Guardian in May 2017 of that now infamous outing against the Blues – which would prove to be his last for the Reds – and why it still follows him around like a bad smell: “I suppose it’s because it was my last game and we lost.

“It was a great season for Liverpool – one of their best – although I would have liked to have played a bigger part and that corner is the final memory, so it’s their lasting image of me. But in football you can’t forever live in the past. Things keep moving, every day gives you another chance.”

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Sevilla offered Aspas a clean slate during a loan spell in 2014-15 and were rewarded with a 10-goal return – enough to tempt Celta into re-signing a former favourite and Liverpool to recoup £4.4m of a questionable outlay.

Back in familiar surroundings, a man who appeared lost in England has flourished.

After easing his way back into life at the club who nurtured him through their academy system, Aspas netted 26 times in 2016-17 – with only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez able to better a 19-goal haul in La Liga.

That situation has replicated itself in the current campaign, with Celta – despite being locked in mid-table mediocrity – boasting Spain’s deadliest striker.

Aspas has 20 top-flight efforts to his name , netting on average once every 143 minutes, with his exploits, which have also seen him provide five assists, including two hat-tricks and memorable efforts home and away in 2-2 draws with champions-elect Barcelona.

A man who appeared a million miles away from recognition with then reigning World Cup champions Spain as he toiled at Liverpool in 2013, is now almost guaranteed – injury permitting – to form part of Julen Lopetegui’s squad attempting to recapture global glory this summer .

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He has earned eight caps to date, with a further three goals added to a stunning debut effort recorded after stepping off the bench in a friendly clash with England at Wembley in November 2016.

That strike – curled around Tom Heaton and in off the far post – should have helped to remind any remaining sceptics of what he is capable of, with Aspas back on English soil a markedly different player to the one that had departed some 18 months previous with barely a second glance.

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“Liverpool caught me more off guard, younger, it was the first time I left home,” the now 30-year-old told the Spanish press recently.

Back where he belongs, a more mature Aspas is thriving and set to complete the most remarkable of career turnarounds by taking goalscoring instincts which once saw him restricted to a bit-part role in the FA Cup onto a World Cup stage.

Who knows, a strong showing in a Russian shop window and there may even be one last big move in a man who has been transformed from forgettable flop to fearsome frontman.

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