Junior Firpo (Real Betis)
Junior’s rise to prominence was extremely fast. Very few fans knew about the Dominican-born defender just a year ago, but Betis coach Quique Setien didn’t hesitate to promote him from the reserves – and the results have been excellent.
Junior produced a magnificent performance on the flank against Real Madrid in only his second La Liga game, despite Betis eventually losing 5-3 in a thrilling affair. It’s been impossible for Setien not to pick him since, and he is now rightfully considered one of the best attacking left-backs in Spain. His ability to play as a winger and even a centre-back is very useful too.
It’s hardly surprising that Real Madrid have reportedly made the 22-year-old one of their top targets to replace the ageing Marcelo, and could be ready to pay his €50 million release clause. However, a move to the Premier League is also a possibility – namely Manchester City, given that Benjamin Mendy is injured so frequently.
Would suit: Manchester City
Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo)
Gomez is an obvious choice for this list – a potential superstar who is seemingly destined to supersede Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as Uruguay’s top striker in the coming years.
The physical centre-forward is outstanding in the air, has a handy habit of being in the right places at the right times, but also possesses good technical skills for such a big man.
Gomez exceeded all expectations in his first season in Spain last term, scoring 17 goals. This season he’s faring even better with eight in 15 matches so far. Tottenham were linked with the 22-year-old last summer, which makes sense given their need for a good backup to Harry Kane.
Would suit: Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea
Fernando Calero (Valladolid)
Rumours about a possible move to Arsenal have been fuelled after the centre-back spent his Christmas break in London, and it’s easy to see why the Gunners might be interested.
Ronaldo-owned Valladolid boast a strong defensive record since returning to the top flight this season, and the 23-year-old is at the very heart of this effort. Elegant and good on the ball, he is good at anticipating play and his leadership skills are exceptional for such a young player.
You could compare him to a younger Laurent Koscielny, who joined Arsenal from unfashionable Lorient in 2010.
Would suit: Arsenal
Borja Iglesias (Espanyol)
The 25-year-old has scored freely everywhere he’s played, but for some reason spent four years with Celta Vigo’s B side from 2013-17 and never got a chance with the first team. He ended his last season in the third tier with 34 goals.
Iglesias was loaned to Segunda Division side Zaragoza in 2017/18 – and scored 22 goals. That earned him a move to Espanyol in the summer, and the striker has found life in La Liga easier than many expected by netting eight times already so far. Some pundits have even suggested he be called up for national team duty.
It might be a bit too early to judge him, but his release clause stands at just €25 million, which could be quite attractive in the current market.
Would suit: Southampton, Newcastle, Huddersfield
Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad)
Famously nicknamed Bigfoot for his size 12.5 boots, the 21-year-old is the hottest property in San Sebastian. Frequently compared to former Real Socieded starlet Antoine Griezmann, Oyarzabal is comfortable playing on both wings and centrally, is lightning quick and packs a fierce left-footed shot.
He recently extended his contract until 2024, and that would make the transfer quite costly, but the Basques are unlikely to sell in January anyway. If their rather problematic campaign finishes as badly as it has started, however, then Oyarzabal could be among the major transfers of 2019.
Would suit: Arsenal, Chelsea
Ibai Gomez (Alaves)
Once upon a time, Gomez was considered one of the most prominent rising talents in Spain. Born and raised in Bilbao, he overcame a serious knee injury to flourish under Marcelo Bielsa’s guidance, especially during the 2012/13 season. Technically sound, dedicated, industrious and versatile, he not only became a favourite with Athletic fans but attracted interest from top scouts elsewhere. Tottenham were seriously considering signing Ibai, but the move didn’t work out.
Eventually disaster struck again, Gomez was hit with a series of injuries that nearly ruined his career, and was released by Bilbao in 2016. Luckily for him, though, strong character enabled him to recover and he soon became a key figure at Alaves.
Playing mainly on the right flank, he is having an especially successful season in 2018/19. With his contract ending in the summer Gomez is definitely a bargain too, even at the age of 29. Bilbao are reportedly keen to take him back, and a reunion with Bielsa at Leeds is also possible, but Premier League clubs should be curious too.
Would suit: Leicester, Newcastle, Fulham
Munir El Haddadi (Barcelona)
Put simply, there’s no reason for Munir to continue wasting his career on the Barcelona bench other than the pride of wearing the famous shirt in training sessions.
Fairly successful loan spells at Valencia and Alaves didn’t help his cause, and the time has come to move elsewhere and play regularly. The tricky and versatile striker might not have developed into a top star as expected in his earlier days, but at 23 he would be an interesting addition to a mid-table Premier League club.
Would suit: Brighton, Watford, Newcastle
Girona have been playing some exciting football since winning their first ever promotion to the top flight in 2017, and Portu is at the very heart of their project.
The versatile attacker, who was once discarded by Valencia, is a very intelligent runner who exploits space well. His movement without the ball is exceptional, enabling him to get into good scoring positions, and he is also a good dribbler and unselfish passer.
Portu’s fighting spirit is also important to the dressing room. Sevilla were close to sign the 26-year-old in the summer when former Girona coach Pablo Machin moved there, but he eventually stayed. For how long, though? His tireless style could be a good fit for an attack-minded Premier League club.
Would suit: Bournemouth, West Ham
Mauro Arambarri (Getafe)
Getafe have one of the best defensive records in Spain, both last season and this term, and their organisation under wily coach Jose Bordalas is outstanding.
One of the team’s unsung heroes is the Uruguayan central midfielder Mauro Arambarri, who has made remarkable progress since joining the club on loan in summer 2016. The move was made permanent a year later, and his performances have been magnificent this season.
The Uruguayan combines good ball control with tenacious fighting spirit, and could develop into a top player in his position. At the age of 23, the sky’s the limit.
Would suit: West Ham, Southampton, Newcastle
Toni Lato (Valencia)
Back in 2016, there were reports of Liverpool’s interest in Lato even before he made his La Liga debut for Valencia. When those opportunities arrived, it was easy to see why Jurgen Klopp considered bringing the industrious left-back to Anfield.
Quick and attack-minded, Lato is capable of providing quality crosses but has impressed with his defensive coverage as well. Sadly he is currently finding life difficult behind Jose Gaya, though: this season he has only played twice in La Liga and once in the Champions League against Manchester United, where he suffered a nasty cut from a wild Antonio Valencia challenge.
Lato must leave Mestalla in order to make progress, and could be an interesting – if rather inexperienced – bargain.
Would suit: Watford, Cardiff