The Premier League is about to get a little bit more Spanish with the arrival of two midfielders from La Liga, and it’s the north London clubs that are set to prosper.
Arsenal signed Spain Under-21 sensation Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid last month, while Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso finally left Real Betis for Tottenham on deadline day.
The duo endured very different campaigns in 2018/19. Lo Celso spent the season on loan at Betis from Paris Saint-Germain, making a permanent move to the Spanish club in April. Such was the quality of Lo Celso’s season, Betis managed to make a huge profit on the 23-year-old, who is said to be keen to work under his countryman Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs.
Meanwhile, Ceballos – who was bought from Betis in the summer of 2017 – struggled to break into Real Madrid’s starting line-up under three different managers. He made 34 appearances across all competitions but didn’t start regularly. It was in the summer that his season came alive; the 22-year-old played a starring role as Spain won the Under-21 European Championships in Italy.
Arsenal apparently fought off competition from Tottenham to sign Ceballos on a season-long loan, but Spurs will be happy with their lot after wrapping up a deal for Lo Celso. Indeed, both clubs have added a quality midfielder to their squads – but who is getting the better player?
We’ve delved into the stats from 2018/19 and determined the areas in which Ceballos and Lo Celso are strongest, directly comparing the two La Liga-infused midfielders about to make their mark in the Premier League.
Goals and assists
Lo Celso was more productive than Ceballos in terms of goals and assists, which can be put down to the fact that the former played a more prominent role for his side. Lo Celso scored nine goals and provided four assists in 32 La Liga appearances. He also scored five goals in seven Europa League games.
Ceballos scored three goals in 23 league matches and failed to find the net in any other competition for Real Madrid. He also didn’t register a single assist for his club. However, Ceballos did score twice at the Under-21 Euros for Spain.
Arsenal fans need not be disheartened, though. Ceballos scored 0.22 goals per 90 minutes in La Liga last season, which isn’t considerably worse than Lo Celso’s 0.34. There is a good chance Ceballos will be more prolific when it comes to goals and assists if he is given more regular game time.
That said, Ceballos’ final season at Betis wasn’t full of goals; he scored twice and registered two assists while playing regularly. Thankfully, goals aren’t the be-all and end-all of Ceballos’ game – nor Lo Celso’s, for that matter.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
Creativity and dribbling
With Christian Eriksen potentially departing Spurs and Mesut Ozil’s role under Unai Emery increasingly unclear, both north London clubs may be in need of a fresh creative presence in midfield this season. So how suitable are Ceballos and Lo Celso in that regard?
Despite failing to provide an assist last season, Ceballos created more chances per 90 league minutes (1.73) than Lo Celso (1.01). Ceballos also created more chances in 2016/17 for Betis (1.5 per 90). It looks like Arsenal will be getting the more creative player, although Lo Celso topped the charts in other areas last season.
Tanguy Ndombele has already been brought in at Tottenham to break the lines and aid the transition from midfield to attack, and the addition of Lo Celso will make Pochettino’s side even more fluid in their movement from one end of the pitch to the other, as proven by his dribbling statistics.
Lo Celso completed 2.36 take-ons per 90 minutes in La Liga last season, while Ceballos managed just 1.01. However, in 2016/17, when Ceballos was playing in Lo Celso’s current role at Betis, the Arsenal-bound midfielder completed 3.08 take-ons per 90 league minutes. Again, perhaps he will return to those kinds of numbers if he is the main creative player at Arsenal.
But could the contrast in those statistics be down to the positions Ceballos and Lo Celso take up on the pitch? And in those positions, what unique traits will the pair bring to north London?
Positions and versatility
Lo Celso certainly appears to get into more advanced positions than Ceballos, which might explain the former’s higher goal tally. Lo Celso had 4.28 touches per 90 minutes in the opposition box in La Liga last season compared to Ceballos’ 2.31, a figure slightly higher than his 1.73 in 2016/17.
It makes sense, then, that some are labelling Lo Celso as a direct replacement for Eriksen, who could, in turn, end up being Ceballos’ replacement at Real Madrid. Lo Celso will be expected to link the midfield and attack like Eriksen does, dropping deep for the ball as often as he ventures into the penalty area to provide a goal threat.
Ceballos, meanwhile, will operate in a slightly deeper role. That’s not to say he is a dedicated defensive midfielder, although his tackling stats will give Arsenal some extra tenacity in the middle of the park. Ceballos won 1.52 tackles per 90 league minutes last term and an impressive 2.54 for Betis in 2016/17, while Lo Celso managed just 1.16 last season.
That Spurs were reportedly interested in Ceballos before the Gunners closed in on a deal suggests Pochettino was planning to use the midfielder in a similar role to Lo Celso, but the similarities in their numbers aren’t exactly striking.
So, just how similar are they?
Overall, Ceballos and Lo Celso are able to operate in similar positions and roles despite differing from each other in key areas.
Ceballos creates more chances and generally completes more take-ons, although Lo Celso outdid him in the dribbling column last season. Lo Celso is more prolific in front of goal but lacks Ceballos’ willingness to put a tackle in.
Instead of tracking back, Lo Celso is more focused on getting into the box and providing a goal threat, having more touches of the ball in the opposition box than Ceballos.
Regardless of their similarities and differences, it will certainly be exciting to see the La Liga duo in the Premier League next season.