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Friday April 12 2019
Mikel Oyarzabal the rising star at Real Sociedad

Forward Mikel Oyarzabal continues to thrive at Real Sociedad and could be in line for a big-money transfer this summer, writes Kaustubh Pandey.

Mikel Oyarzabal’s progress at Real Sociedad has gone undertheradarwithlittle spotlight on him, despite havingenjoying a significant season under Imanol Alguacil. Having scored 12 times, the 21-year-old has been the Basque side’s most important player in their ongoing hunt for European qualification.

It isn’t just the numbers that should catch the attention– Oyarzabal’s approach to the game is just as impressive. He isn’t the quickest of wide players or the most technically blessed of them all, but his intelligent movement and constant willingness to run into half-spaces make him a very tricky customer.

One look at his stature and skill will draw comparisons with someone like David Silva, but Oyarzabal isn’t a player who sits behind strikers and uses his impeccable abilityto open up defenses. He uses ruthless movement and constant alternation of flanks to drag defenses open– arare breed to have in a country which has had so many technically blessed heroes in recent times.

Since having made his debut in the 2015-16 season, Oyarzabal has evolved as a player. Having been initially used as a left-winger, it was under Eusebio Sacristan that he was handed the freedom to switch flanks as he wished. That has brought the best out of a player who thrives on the freedom to move around in the final third.

Last season, Oyarzabal scored 12 times – the same number as this campaign. But the difference lies in how he’s become a more direct player, not huggingthe touchline as much as beforehand. He has grown used to getting on the ball more and playing with it; averaging1.4 dribbles per game, as compared to 1.1 per game last season.

What is scary is thathewill only improve. It is certainly surprising that Oyarzabal has made only one appearance for the Spanish national team. Luis Enrique’s focus on making the current La Rojalook like the Spain of the 2008-12 golden period does not help the forward. He isnot as technically gifted  as Isco, Suso or even Rodrigo Moreno, but he brings something very different to the plate.

At his peak, the 21-year-old will be able to cut through the meanest of defenses with hiswork-rate, movement and agility. When playing against modern teams whorely on playing low-blocks, a player like Oyarzabal can cause havoc.This formation makes Atletico Madrid spring to mind. A Coachlike Diego Simeone loves work-horses and players who can stick to tasks tirelessly. The emphasis is noton players who are technically gifted or blessed with bundles of pace or acceleration. They want to be as direct in their approach as possible. What Oyarzabal brings is notas attractive as running at defenses or going past people like they arenot there.

Oyarzabal has become a mean finisher over the last two seasons and that never goes unseen. He does have an eye for an incisive pass, but it's unlikely he’ll leave onlookers bedazzled by a turn of pace. Given the freedom of movement on either flank, he will continue to thrive.

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