Watching Athletic Bilbao beating Atletico Madrid 3-0 last night, using a 7 minute blitz to send Atletico Winless for their fifth consecutive outing, I tried to think if there’s any striker in Spain better than Fernando Llorente, right now.
And right now being a key, um, phrase. Fernando Torres is showing signs of coming back to himself in Chelsea, but he still has only two league goals this season, and 3 in 20 league matches for Chelsea. Getting bought for £50 million doesn’t actually mean you’re worth it. Two, three years ago, maybe the best in the world. Hasn’t been that way for two years now.
David Villa? He had a slow start in his debut season with Barcelona, but ended up scoring a wonderful goal in the Champions League final and scoring 18 in the league. The man has never scored less than 15 goals a season in a full season since moving up from Sporting Gijon B can’t be counted out, but is showing some worrying signs early this season, like a few other Barcelona players. Nearing his 30th birthday, who knows, maybe it’s a downward road from here.
Any other contenders? Roberto Soldado maybe. But I prefer Llorente. It’ll be hard to argue he has the best aerial ability, in translation, has the best headers in the game right now. Being 6’5 never hurts, but being tall never assured success to anyone. Just ask Nikola Zigic. But Llorente’s more than that, he isn’t just some tall figure waiting for crosses. The man scores, and scores.
Grant you, he’s never won the pichichi, and probably never will, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing in the La Liga. But Llorente, now 26, has improved by miles in his last four season with Bilbao and he doesn’t seem to be losing any steps this year. He has scored 57 leagues goals these past four seasons, 72 in all competitions. And that’s without a very creative midfield or a very strong outfit at that. Bilbao are good, but not outstanding in anyway, except for home games against a certain number of opponents.
He doesn’t fit the Spain plan perfectly, isn’t quick and pacey like Villa can be. Still, he brings other strengths to the table, and Spain have enough pass and move players, overflowing with them in fact. They can make do with a more classic no.9 striker, with 7 goals so far for the national team, in 19 caps. Maybe Llorente needs a bigger club to prove just how good of a scorer he is. Many Bilbao greats, like Julen Guerrero who always comes to mind when I think of Basque legends, spend their entire career with Los Leones. Hell, Llorente’s nickname is – El Rey Leon. Why mess with karma?