Watford tell us the decision on where Adalberto Penaranda will spend next season is solely theirs – and you can see on the evidence of his performance against Real Madrid tonight why they believe the Venezuelan wonderkid is ready to be integrated into Quique Sanchez Flores’ squad in the summer.
The Hornets spent the final three days of the transfer window negotiating with the player, his representative, Udinese and Granada to secure him for a fee that will be £8m if he begins life as a Watford player in June. The 18-year-old was sent straight back on loan to Granada, where he has been since the start of the season.
He only made his La Liga debut in November but he is so trusted and rated by Granada coach Jose Ramon Sandoval that he played him in successive matches against Sevilla, Valencia and Barcelona at the turn of the year. He has missed the last two with a hamstring injury but was pitched straight back in this evening against the might of Real Madrid.
It took just ten minutes to see what all the fuss was about. He made two fouls on Dani Carvajal inside the first three minutes and although his muscularity is not the reason he has been signed, it will have demonstrated to Sanchez Flores, who said he was going to be watching the game from his north London residence, that he has the physical attributes to deal with the rough and tumble of the Premier League. He was then involved in a collision with the Real keeper a minute later as Granada looked to exploit his pace with defence-splitting passes.
Hugging the touchline where Zinedine Zidane was patrolling the technical area for Real Madrid, Penaranda was a willing outlet for his Granada teammates and he gave Carvajal, the Spain right-back, plenty to think about. Powerfully built and a decent height, Penaranda once dropped the shoulder on James Rodriguez and fended off Luka Modric in one move and then, in another, was cool as a cucumber when deep in the left-back spot with his back to goal, keeping possession under the attention of Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema before eventually playing his team out of trouble.
He had the ball in the net for what would have been his fifth league goal of the season but it was ruled out for offside. Yet knowing Sanchez Flores as we do, the Watford head coach will have been either scribbling furiously or making a mental note of Penaranda’s involvement in Madrid’s first goal. The overlapping Carvajal ran off the back of the teenager and he crossed for Benzema to convert from close range.
His confidence did not take a hit. Within minutes, he chested a lofted pass, held off France international defender Raphael Varane before trying to play in Isaac Success by nutmegging Sergio. Next he played a reverse backheel to send Ruben Perez sprinting clear down the vacant left channel.
The party pieces didn’t stop with the sound of the half-time whistle. He ghosted past Rodriguez and Carvajal with one body serve and some nimble footwork just before the hour mark and then played a perceptive reverse pass for the lively Success to appeal concertedly for a penalty. He was not directly involved in Granada’s shock equaliser and shortly after he went off, to a hero’s reception from the home fans, Madrid struck a stunning winner through Luka Modric.
Penaranda was replaced, ironically, by Abdoulaye Doucoure, Watford’s other deadline-day signing, but we now realise what a top club official meant on Monday when he said to us this transfer has the potential to be “the biggest in the club’s history”.
- Pictures taken from Sky Sports’ La Liga coverage