Last week reports emerged on Tuttomercatoweb that Aston Villa are keeping tabs on Brazilian forward Leo Baptistao, as they look to strengthen their attacking options next season and with manager Tim Sherwood thought to be a keen admirer.
The question is, would he adapt well in the Premier League and has his progress in La Liga merited the interest?
Background and Development
Having worked his way through the youth ranks, Baptistao made his first-team breakthrough in the 2012-13 season at Rayo Vallecano, going on to net 7 goals in 28 La Liga outings. He might have scored more had he played more minutes, but various injuries and ailments hindered his progress. His overall contribution to the team was his biggest strength though, being regularly involved in setting up goals for those around him, providing six assists.
Atlético Madrid clearly saw there was potential when they landed Baptistao on a five-year deal the following summer. However, amidst further fitness and injury difficulties, making just four starts and scoring one goal in a total of 11 appearances, with little chance of further action in what remained of the 2013-14 campaign, he was made available for loan.
In the 2013 January transfer window, Baptistao moved to Real Betis on a six-month loan deal, who according to Inside Spanish Football, paid a whopping €2.3 million for his services for that spell. Further injury problems and just one goal in 17 La Liga appearances, along with only fleeting glimpses of what he could offer, didn't help Betis avoid relegation. Fans were less than impressed.
The Here and Now
Back with Atlético Madrid over the summer and with still no place in the plans of Diego Simeone, another loan spell beckoned for Baptistao. This time he headed back across the Spanish capital and once more to Rayo Vallecano, clearly with hopes of rediscovering his form.
Whilst he hasn't struggled quite as much with injury problems, Baptistao has made a fairly good contribution for Rayo, scoring seven goals in 22 La Liga outings. It should be mentioned however, that those goals came in just four encounters. Starting the campaign well, he scored back to back braces against Athletic Club Bilbao and Levante. Another brace came in his ninth game of the season against Eibar. In his last 13 outings though, he's scored just the one goal in a 3-1 home defeat against Espanyol.
Standing just half an inch under six-feet tall, Baptistao offers a good aerial outlet. With his back to goal he's also able to hold off defenders well, looking to pick out the runs of players around him, along with dropping deep to get involved in attacking moves.
Much as he impressed everyone during his first season with Rayo, it's hard to shake the feeling he was perhaps somewhat over-rated and the potential simply hasn't yet materialised. Beyond the seven goals he's scored, his striking accuracy hasn't been as good; there's only been one successful assist and indeed, that would suggest decline, rather than progress.
Unfortunately it looks like Baptistao is suffering from arrested development. Unless he can make a big impact in what remains of the season, he's arguably already as good as he's going to get in La Liga. To be considered anywhere near a good striker in the Spanish top-flight, the ideal is to contribute well into the double figures, if your team is hoping to be in the top-half of the table.
A move to the Premier League might offer a fresh challenge and opportunity to grow more as a player. He certainly doesn't lack in terms of his work-rate for the team, but his technical ability doesn't really seem to have improved any, over the last three years.
If Aston Villa are serious about their interest, providing they can strike a reasonable deal with Atlético, a loan option might be the best way forward, rather than risk a big outlay on someone who might not cut it in the Premier League.