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Joselu, the king of the aerial game that flattened the ground in Morata, Aspas and Firmino

BarcelonaWhen, ten years ago, in 2012, he returned to his native Germany, Joselu Mato realized that the outstanding wingspan (1.92 meters) that had allowed him to become a top scorer of reference in the seedlings of the Celta and Real Madrid would not be enough to compete with the Bundesliga central defenders. The second signing of Espanyol for the 2022-23 academic year had to do, at the age of 21, a specific work of several overtime hours in the gym, with special attention to the quadriceps, in order to be able to equate to the physical strength required by the German championship.

The three years he played in the Bundesliga, added to the three he later lived in the Premier League, served him as a master’s degree to learn an art that has ended up perfecting Alava: the mastery of aerial play. Joselu has been the player in the Spanish league who has won the most aerial duels in the three seasons he has played in the Vitoria team: 312 in 2019-20 (8.6 per game); 277 in 2020-21 (6.94 per duel) and 284 in 2021-22 (7.6 per game). In these three courses no other player has reached the 213 aerial duels won in the entire championship. The Uruguayan Cabrera, with 84, was the one who dominated this facet at Espanyol last season. In none of the three years in Alava has he dropped from 10 league goals (11, 11 and 14, respectively).

Air play is a resource you use for various solutions, in addition to for scoring. In fact, only 5 of the 36 goals he scored with Alabès went to them – 24 he scored with his right leg (including nine penalties and two direct fouls) and seven with his left. “When I saw him, I was struck by how well he mastered the ball with both legs. Despite its height, it was closely associated, made walls and threw good demarcations. Then, he has improved other facets of the game “, praised Roberto Trashorras, with whom he met in Vigo.

The data corroborates that the white-and-blue club has incorporated an expert in aerial play that will provide multiple resources, apart from goals: ability to lower and retain aerial balls, the ability to play long and unload in second-line men and also to remove danger within the area. “Joselu gives us life, he has almost twice as many duels won as the one that follows him”, praised the former Spaniard Rubén Duarte a few months ago. “It’s very good to play from back to goal and fight with the central defenders, but this is a statistic very conditioned by the style: if Espanyol does not bet on the direct game, as did Alabès, it is difficult to win so many duels ”, Explains to ARA the journalist of Basque Journal Jon Aroca.

“He fixes the central defenders, he is good with both legs and has a good header. In addition, it is a perfect complement for other types of strikers because it unloads well in the face and associates well “, describes one of the analysts of Javi Calleja in the Vitoria team, Luismi Moro. Although Alava has played most of the time as the only reference, Joselu himself admits that he feels “comfortable” with some other striker next to him who serves as his “support” when it comes to pressing, attacking or accumulate people in the area ”. Joselu’s wear and tear has benefited, at different stages of his career, attackers who acted as second strikers, such as Iago Aspas (at Celta); forward centers like Álvaro Morata (Real Madrid Castilla), and midfielders with arrival, like Roberto Firmino or Kevin Volland (in the Hoffenheim). Joselu, in turn, has been fed back from them and has become a striker with many more functions apart from the goal.

He and RDT received a call from Barça

This versatility in attack opens the door for Joselu to be complementary with another striker he knows perfectly, Raúl de Tomás. Although they did not play any matches together (Joselu left Real Madrid Castilla three months before RDT joined as a full member), they did coincide in several training sessions during the 2011-12 season. The Madrid past and the goal-scoring voracity, however, are not the only coincidences between Joselu and RDT. The two also share the fact that they were under Barça’s radar.

In the winter of 2020, the Barça club became interested in the situation of the two players. “My representative and Alabès received a call from Barça, who was studying options and asked about my situation, but Alabès did not want to let go of me, so it would have been a more expensive financial operation than the one from Braithwaite ”, said Joselu himself, who admitted that he would have liked to wear the Barça shirt despite his white past. “It would have been a shame to say no to a club like Barça, Juventus or Manchester City,” he said. Two and a half years later, he will be the spearhead of Espanyol.

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