After Spain’s under-21 European Championship triumph in the summer showcased the next group of superb talents emerging from La Liga, the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Asier Illaramendi have moved on to compete for places in the full squad but the production has shown no signs of ending. Of the squad for the forthcoming games with Bosnia and Albania in qualifying for the 2015 competition, Oliver Torres, Jose Campana, Sergi Darder, Charles Gil and Saul Niguez have just 11 caps between them whilst captain Iker Muniain and Pablo Sarabia, aged 20 and 21 respectively, are relative seniors, sharing 37 caps.
Sarabia looks set to add to his tally of 17 after a joyous start to the season with Getafe, the attacking midfielder who, together with Pedro Leon, is finding redemption after failing to cut it at Real Madrid. Starting the season having spent just £5 million of the £12 million they recouped on Abdelaziz Barrada, the Azulones sit 6th in the table after 13 games. Sarabia leaves the Coliseum Alfonso Perez to head for the international break having appeared in all of their league games so far and after assisting the only goal in Spain under-21’s last game, a 1-0 win over Hungary. It was one moment of a very productive season in which he has registered 6 assists so far.
Sarabia was a member of the Escuela de Fútbol Madrid Oeste de Boadilla del Monte football academy, a facility in Pozuelo on the west side of the capital, up until 2004 when he was handed a contract by Real at the age of 12. After growing through the club’s youth teams as well as representing Spain at under-16 and under-17 level, he played all seven games as they finished third in the 2009 FIFA under-17 World Cup. He was handed his début with Real Madrid’s Castilla in a Segunda Division B game with Alcorcon on 3rd January 2010.
His first goal for the Castilla came two weeks later in a match with Racing Santander’s B side but had to wait until the following year before he could make a proper breakthrough in Alberto Toril’s side, starting 30 games as the manager moved him from the left-wing to a more central attacking position. From there he became increasingly effective, becoming the reserves’ third top-scorer with 12 goals, behind Joselu and Alvaro Morata as the Castilla narrowly missed out on the promotion play-offs.
His fine form that season was rewarded with the attention of Jose Mourinho who handed him his senior début in the Champions League tie with Auxerre. He came on as a 70th minute substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo in a 4-0 victory, an experience the youngster described as “a tremendous night I will never forget”. However, with Madrid signing Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop that following summer, he found his chances of a senior breakthrough blocked further and moved to Getafe for 3 million Euros, a deal that gave Madrid an option to buy the midfielder back after his second season with his new club. It was clear that Real knew they were losing a highly-rated talent, though they could not deny him the opportunity to play regular La Liga football, it was another loss from the Castilla after the likes of Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo, Borja Valero and Javi Garcia all had to move elsewhere to make their mark.
His progression at Getafe under manager Luis Garcia Plaza has been admittedly slow and carefully managed, being afforded only a handful of appearances, 19 and then 13, in his first two years with the club as they consolidated in the Primera Division. Despite his cautious development with Getafe, Sarabia was still a regular pick in Spain’s youth teams after being part of the squad that won the under-19 European Championship in 2011. Two years later, he was present in Israel this summer as the under-21s won the European Championship, gaining the valuable experience that has helped him finally achieve a regular first-team spot this year.
Strengths, Style and Weaknesses
Getafe is widely considered as a great platform for Real Madrid products to ply their trade as Soldado, Estaban Granero and Dani Parejo have previously found out, though it has been argued that the arrival of manager Luis Garcia in the same summer as Sarabia’s move, hindered the young midfielder’s development. Garcia is often perceived as a rigid, tactical coach who prioritises organisation over expression and in his job of affirming Getafe as a Primera Division outfit, Sarabia’s flair was sacrificed as he continued to learn the more diligent side of the game.
Although predominantly left-footed, the 21 year old is used mostly on the right-side with license to cut inside though the latter stages of his development have seen him move into a central position behind the striker, appearing in that position in all but one of Getafe’s league matches so far this season. His form there so far this season has been a revelation, perhaps in advance of his own expectations as he speaks modestly of comparisons being made with Isco.
He has already appeared in as many games as he did last term, becoming an integral member of the array of gifted, versatile attacking options available to Garcia and his 4-2-3-1 system this year. Sarabia is usually partnered by Diego Castro and Pedro Leon in the trio behind the striker, either Ciprian Marica or Adrian Colunga. With Angel Lafita and club captain Jaime Gavilan also able to take their place across the attack, Garcia has been able to mould his side into a more assertive style as indicated by the fact they have totalled over 14 shots on goal in all but four of their league matches to date.
Sarabia has been a direct benefactor from the shift in Garcia’s mentality, being allowed to create more and affect attacking positions with his clever movement and ability on the ball. He has produced 16 chances, second only to Diego Castro’s 22 in the Getafe squad, and assisted 3 goals in the league as well as scoring in the surprise win at Villarreal. Garcia’s logic in moving Sarabia centrally is best indicated by his poor return at crosses with only 3 of 20 attempts hitting their target.
A degree of discipline has also been shown in Sarabia’s play as a central attacking midfielder as although he has attempted 293 passes, only 15 of them have been dangerous through balls, suggesting he prefers to keep hold of the ball in the final third and look for better options rather than losing it in an attempt to force the ball forward. However a pass success rate of just 76.8% and having been caught in possession a total of 30 times, it shows that Sarabia may need to improve his effectiveness on the ball. His ambition in going for goal, as shown by 26 shots so far, cannot be questioned, though with an accuracy of just 45% and a meagre return of a single goal, an injury time tap-in vs Villarreal, shows that his decision-making can sometimes be found wanting.
His ability to carry the ball however is a threat, attempting 15 dribbles, something which confuses defenders as he runs at them, allowing for more potent service to his team-mates and the draw of free-kicks in the final third. In total, he has been fouled 18 times so far this campaign.
Garcia’s system is based more around retaining shape when the ball is lost, becoming organised and keeping to position rigidly, so that explains the lack of defensive contribution made by Getafe’s attacking quartet. Sarabia is no exception having made just 1, making just 8 tackles in his 13 appearances and intercepting the ball just 4 times. There may be an argument that this side of the game may improve as he matures with age, though it may also be a reflection of Garcia’s defensive earnestness; Getafe have lost the possession battle in 11 of their 13 league matches. However with Sarabia, Pedro Leon and Diego Castro all pulling the strings when they have it, they have managed a steady supply of goals in response to a miserly defence.
“Sarabia is like Isco, but scores a little less. He was in Madrid’s youth system and they could have waited.”
— Angel Torres, Getafe President, quoted by Inside Spanish Football
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