With the Italy-bound Fernando Llorente moving on this summer, there is a spot available for the Basque Country's best pound for pound striker – and Kike Sola is once again putting himself amongst the contenders.
The Osasuna man at the weekend scored his seventh goal of the season, equalling his best ever total from 2010-11. Directly too, his goals spell good news for the Pamplona based outfit who are yet to lose when he scores – in those seven games he's scored there have been five wins, and two draws.
Be it off the bench, or as a starter, Sola is giving Osasuna added punch in their attack – and they sure do need it. His most important contribution was against Real Zaragoza, a bitter rival down the years, when a floated cross came into the penalty area saw Sola produce an outstanding header on the swivel that went into the top corner. It was the fourth minute of that game but the striker was alert and ready, while his team managed to hang on for the remaining 86 minutes.
Towards the end of 2012, Osasuna were in danger of being cut adrift from the rest of the League, but now with a fit Sola and the added creative input Miguel de las Cuevas provides, they're pushing up the table again. Their back to back wins against Zaragoza and Levante was the first time they'd done so in this current season, while Real Madrid and Real Sociedad's 15 points in the second half of the season are currently the only tallies that surpass Osasuna's 14.
Interestingly with the presence of Raul Garcia and his goals, Sola wasn't missed too much last season. A devastating injury ended his campaign after just 10 games, but with a fit Sola who knows, Osasuna might've just captured that Europa League place they narrowly missed out on.
Sola's style, unattractive as it may be at times, is attracting attention. He's an abrasive striker who hunts defenders, pressing them and is relentless in his off the ball activity. His attitude sits well with the Osasuna support, so accustomed to seeing their team offer up tenacious performances. On the ball too, he's deceptively intelligent with his passing, awareness and power. He's a strong character both in the air and adept with ball at feet, harnessing both facets makes him more of a handful for defenders.
Sola has no problems backing in either, nudging defenders and tormenting whoever is tasked with marking him. His stock might be even higher if he could find a more lethal touch in front of goal, perhaps the only thing that is missing from his repertoire.
The aforementioned attention is coming from not too far away, via Bilbao and Osasuna's historic rivals Athletic. With Llorente moving on and Aduriz getting no younger, a slot is opening up for a striker. The cantera too, is full of creative midfielders at the moment rather than strapping, classic No 9's. His €10m release clause might be a sticking point for Athletic, though if Osasuna are relegated they can get him for just €4m. Ironic it maybe be, but Sola's goals could dent Athletic's pockets in the long-term.
Sola has been with Athletic before, spending five seasons with the club and coming through the Lezama ranks. 1986 of birth, he was part of a generation seen as disappointing at the club with only Xabi Castillo making it to the first team.
For now though, it's saving Osasuna – the club who did want him – that is the priority.