Friday, 29 April 2011

"Best of the Rest" La Liga XI

The duopoly of “La Liga” means that when compiling a “Team of the Season” one is faced with a choice. Will the side be a composite Real Madrid/Barcelona XI, or a ‘best of the rest’ XI? ‘Best of the rest’ always seems to imply something secondary, a runners-up, which, in this case, is essentially true. However a team entitled “Best of the Rest”, it must be remembered, is ‘the rest’ only because it is playing against comfortably the best two teams in Europe, and in no way disregards the abilities of said players. In fact, such players make up a league that, in this blogger’s view, is the best in the world, aesthetically certainly. Indeed, some of them would snuggle comfortably into the respective playing styles of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

GK: Carlos Kameni (Espanyol)

In a bizarre season for Espanyol, who, at one stage, were contemplating European qualification, but ended up relying on several youngsters to see them through recent fixtures, Carlos Kameni has had yet another outstanding season. Club captain who made the number one spot his own in 2006, and hasn’t looked back since. His traits include a dominant command of his penalty area, as well as feline-esque reflexes and confidence in the air. Ten clean sheets this season and two penalty saves mark out an excellent keeper. His fiery personality has seen clashes with both fans and managers, however this only serves to demonstrate his loyalty to his country, Cameroon, and his adopted homeland of Catalonia.

Other candidate: Diego Lopez (Villarreal)

RB: Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao)

A sturdy, dependable full-back, who makes very few errors and is reliable going forward, Iraola has been a regular for Bilbao since 2003-2004. He has reaped the rewards of an excellent season containing four goals and six assists, by being honoured with his fifth Spain cap, away at Lithuania. An excellent striker of the ball, capable of taking free kicks and penalties, whose positioning is rarely suspect and is quicker going forward than most full-backs, Iraola is a versatile, talented footballer. One of the most underrated right-backs in Spain is finally getting the recognition that has always been his in his beloved Basque country.

Other candidate: Miguel (Valencia)

LB: Jeremy Mathieu (Valencia)

At first glance, Jeremy Mathieu looks nothing like a full-back. Built like a bull, standing at well over 6 feet tall, with a capacity to run for days, and not as technically gifted as some of his counterparts, when seen chugging up the Valencian flanks as El Cid used to do, it is less of a heroic sight than the Cid and more of a strange one. Yet a superb debut season from the French full-back sees him shade another Valencian left-back, Asier del Horno out of contention. Mathieu’s consistency in both the Champions League and La Liga make him selected. He possesses huge strength in the tackle, as befits someone of his size, but sometimes overzealous, as Karim Benzema would readily testify. Mathieu can also produce the occasional howitzer shot, as witnessed with his only goal of the season, away at Bilbao.

Other candidate: Asier del Horno (Levante)

CB: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)

Although Godin seems to have faltered slightly following a superb introduction to the season, he deserves immense credit for bringing even a semblance of stability to Atletico’s notoriously porous backline. With 27 appearances this season, such stability has come from his consistency, and his understanding with fellow South American Filipe and the young Alvaro Dominguez. Although mostly composed, he occasionally looks worringly mistake-prone, yet possesses all the characteristics of a world-class central defender, with pace, positioning, passing and stamina, as well as being beastly in the air. His World Cup performances prompted interest from Chelsea, which did not cease despite a move to Ateltico Madrid, and at only 25, the chronic instability at “Los Colchoneros” may force him to move on sooner rather than later.

Other candidate: Alberto Botia (Sporting Gijon)

CB: Ivan Ramis (Mallorca)

Perhaps a surprise pick, however Ramis has enjoyed a superb season with the Islanders, demonstrating the most essential quality for a centre-back, sheer consistency. Without possessing an array of stunning natural abilities, and perhaps despite possessing too short a temper, as six yellow cards this season, and two reds in the previous would justify, Ramis has become one of the finest centre-backs in La Liga. The 26 year-old has been linked with both Celtic and Fulham in recent seasons, whose oft-porous backlines he would certainly benefit.

Other candidate: Carlos Marchena (Villarreal)

LM: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal)

Cazorla seems the unluckiest player in La Liga. A natural, versatile talent capable of playing on either flank with ease, and causing perennial problems for opposition full-backs, he never seems to have been awarded enough international recognition, nor scored the goals which his talents justifiably deserve. Two goals in 29 Spain appearances and 18 in 110 in his second coming at Villarreal bely Cazorla’s instrumental role in Villareal’s rise to becoming one of the best clubs in Spain. His regular assists (8 this season) for Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar, and midfield understanding with Cani, Borja Valero and Bruno have formed the Yellow Submarine’s mechanical heartbeat, whilst his influential and undemonstrative leadership is a metaphor for the club’s dealings as a whole.

Other candidate: Juan Manuel Mata (Valencia)

RM: Xabi Prieto (Real Sociedad)

The crafty right midfielder from San Sebastian seems to have been on a one-man mission to preserve Sociedad’s first-division status, after a superb season. The desire to retain first division status is understandable, as Prieto stayed with the Basque outfit after relegation in 2006-07 and throughout a torrid experience for such a historic club and good player, in La Liga Adelante. Prieto has reaped the rewards of his loyalty this term and shown fans all over Spain his abilities with all-round contributions of goals and assists, as well as remarkable consistency and lack of injuries. Prieto is blessed with excellent dribbling abilities, good vision, and a creative mindset but his hitherto unwavering loyalty is set to be tested this summer, with Liverpool supposedly swirling. No Sociedad fans would begrudge losing another talented Xabi to the Scouse outfit, but would dearly love to keep the 27 year-old midfield schemer.

Other candidate: Jesus Navas (Sevilla)

CM: Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla)

Since Rakitic has only played half a season, this perhaps seems a surprising choice. However, the Croat has provided an instant impact at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, fulfilling his undoubted talent and potential by adding a creative spark into Sevilla’s oft-physical, and leaden-footed midfield. Indeed, Rakitic’s impact has coincided with Sevilla’s rise back up La Liga, propelling the Andalusian giants into a challenge for European spots. His five goals from midfield provide Sevilla with a deeper-lying attacking threat than Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, whose talents are undoubted but suffered from injuries, lack of service, and lack of support before January. Moreover, the Croatian’s partnership with the Chilean Gary Medel has provided balance both defensively and offensively. Picking up the disillusioned Rakitic from Schalke and reinvigorating him has proven to be an astute piece of business from the normally unstable and chaotic Sevilla.

Other candidates: Jonathan de Guzman (Mallorca)/Bruno (Villareal)

CM: Borja Valero (Villarreal)

The former, bald-headed, ball-playing unsuccessful West Brom midfielder was signed last summer by Villareal after a cull of wage-guzzling senior players. He was thrust straight into the heart of the Yellow Submarine’s midfield, and found the swift movement, precise passing, and high-tempo game just to his liking. So much to his liking in fact, that he has probably been the best midfielder in Spain this season. Were it not for Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, and Busquets standing in his way, he’d be a shoe-in for Del Bosque. Valero looks nothing like a creative midfielder, the slight hunch, the bald head, the awkward running-style, none of the ostentatious panache, swagger or self-importance that accompanies fine trequartistas. But Valero puts paid to the elegant stereotype, proving that hard work and desire, along with a dosage of natural talent can carry a team to the very top (in our league which doesn’t include Barcelona and Real Madrid, of course). Ten assists and four goals in 43 games aren’t outstanding stats, but Valero’s importance to Villarreal comes stylistically, as the living embodiment of their attractive tiki-taka, and as the link man, the unflustered creator who makes things tick.

Other candidates: Tino Costa (Valencia)/Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)

ST: Felipe Caicedo (Levante)

An international debutant at 16 will rightly have much expected of them. And indeed, the Ecuadorean centre-forward experienced a bright introduction into English football with Manchester City, scoring a brace against Hull City. However as with numerous young talents, Caicedo’s star shone brightly only briefly, before loan moves to Sporting Lisbon and then Malaga. On Summer 2010’s deadline day, deep into the dark, last, late hours of August, Caicedo pitched up on his third loan move in Iberia, this time to relegation favourites Levante. Caicedo’s goals though, have propelled Levante towards a comfortable mid-table position, and safety, that reward at the end of the rainbow. And goals there have been, headers, volleys, penalties, tap-ins, one-on-ones, Caicedo’s muscular play has been rewarded with 13 of them. His has been a mission, a man possessed, to show his rich Manchester owners what they’re missing out on, and to lead his adoring Valencian fans to the promised land of safety.

Other candidates: David Trezuguet (Hercules)/Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

ST: Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal)

Is Rossi one of the most complete, underrated forwards in Europe? The Italian scores goals. He creates goals. He works tirelessly. He possesses a lethal shot and superb movement between the lines. He regularly shows his creative instinct. He’s quick, quicker than expected. He runs for days. The term “forward” could perhaps have been created for Rossi, for his attributes, he seems to so define the position. Outside of the top two, the best striker in La Liga this season, and one of the best in European competition. His breakthrough season has changed the European view of him, as second top scorer in the Europa League testifies. No longer is Rossi another failed United starlet, he is now, by his own merits, a top forward, capable of playing just behind a frontman, as a lone striker, or cutting in from a flank. Not merely that, Rossi has that rare, cherished ability to make things happen, to excite fans, to take a game by the scruff of its neck and bend it to his will.

Other candidates: Osvaldo (Espanyol)/Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid)/Fernando Llorente (Bilbao)


  1. I was surprised when City let Caicedo go, he played really well for them when he was only about 19, didn't really deserve it, soi glad to see him doing well now.

    From what I've seen of Rossi he reminds me of van Persie, but is that just because he's left footed and looks similar?! Just seems to have the same effortless style and natural ability.

  2. Hi there. I enjoyed reading this. Just two lines I would question:

    Re Ramis: "The 26 year-old has been linked with both Celtic and Fulham in recent seasons, whose oft-porous backlines he would certainly benefit". Celtic have conceded the fewest goals in the SPL this season by some distance, whereas Fulham have conceded only five more goals than City's uberexpensive defence.

    Re Prieto: "No Sociedad fans would begrudge losing another talented Xabi to the Scouse outfit". Really? I'd be disappointed if they didn't begrudge losing one of their best players.

  3. Good read, Spain seems to develop a lot of good creative central midfielders, who can pass and dribble extreemly well.

    Been really impressed when watching Prieto and Javi Martinez this season.

  4. A few other players who could be in with a shout of making this team, Eva Benga from Valencia. Javi Marquez from Espanyol.

    Uche has scored some important goals as well.

  5. No Forlan? Suprising...

  6. Some very interesting inclusions in the article. I would agree with most of them but where is the likes of Forlan and Aguero, two players I felt have had an good season.

  7. lol (above) good article! These comments are really share no relevance to the article. There are some cunts about...

  8. Re: Goalkeepers

    Actually Kameni would probably be top of any list on La Liga even if it included R.Madrid and Barcelona. Sure Casillas is great but Kameni could give him a run for his money. V.Valdez is overrated.

    Toño is often overlooked and underrated but, Racing's goalie is better this season than all La Liga goalies (my humble opinion). He has had plenty of clean sheets and has also stopped at least 2 penalties!
    I'd for sure place him above Villarreal's (note the double "r") goalie and he gives Kameni a run for his money (and thus also Casillas.)

    And ... in my opinion you brushed over the bottom 10 teams too much ... with only 1 player from a relegation candidate. You brush aside the top 2 but proceed to pretty much concentrate on numbers 3 to 8!

  9. "Re Ramis: "The 26 year-old has been linked with both Celtic and Fulham in recent seasons, whose oft-porous backlines he would certainly benefit". Celtic have conceded the fewest goals in the SPL this season by some distance, whereas Fulham have conceded only five more goals than City's uberexpensive defence."

    Agreed, Celtic's defence has been good this season, but in a weak SPL. In European qualifying they conceded eight goals in four games, preventing any further progress. They also conceded on average a goal a game against Rangers, which, although not a bad record, against their title rivals, probably isn't a good one either, especially in the ridiculous number of games they played against each other. There are good quality individuals, namely Izaguirre, and arguably Majstorovic, but Izaguirre looks likely to leave, whilst Majstorovic is now 34.

    "Re Prieto: "No Sociedad fans would begrudge losing another talented Xabi to the Scouse outfit". Really? I'd be disappointed if they didn't begrudge losing one of their best players."

    Sorry about this, a couple of friends pointed out to me that it was badly phrased. I meant to imply that after his loyalty in the Segunda, and his excellent season, it would be difficult to justify any hard feelings, were he to leave. The ramifications of his departure though, would certainly not benefit the team.

  10. Aguero and Llorente were both given mentions in the other candidates sections. After Rossi's selection, I plumped for Caicedo purely because of his importance to Levante's defying of relegation, no slights against Llorente or Aguero.

    Forlan was never properly considered after an iffy, inconsistent and irritable season.

  11. "And ... in my opinion you brushed over the bottom 10 teams too much ... with only 1 player from a relegation candidate. You brush aside the top 2 but proceed to pretty much concentrate on numbers 3 to 8!"

    This is probably a natural flaw, those in the upper echelons of the league are there on merit. The ones lower down are there because they haven't performed to expectations, and their players, or the majority of their players, essentially, haven't been good enough. It is however, probably a greater achievement to shine in a weaker team, than in a stronger team, and I probably unfairly overlooked players such as Rondon at Malaga, Tono at Santander, Monreal at Osasuna and Aranzubia at Deportivo. (I hope you'll forgive me missing out the accents.)

    Indeed, my team has three selections from outside the top eight, as well as four in the "other candidates" section, which I'd like to think shows that the lower half wasn't ignored, and those putting in exemplary performances regularly were selected, regardless of their team's position.

  12. Surely Iker Muniain should be in there - has had a great breakthrough season and will go on to be a top top player! Would love to see him in the Premier League. Great article though!

  13. Juan Mata has been by far the best creative midfielder outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona players, a terrific player to watch.

  14. very interesting article, thanks. Good insight, opinions well expressed

  15. Great article... a difficult job whittling it down... I'd have said Banega must be in there tho, a mention for the Beast also?

  16. I was going to say that Baptista might be considered, although maybe not in a 4-4-2...

    I've also heard a little about Muniain and he sounds like a good player, while Mata should possibly have gone the way of David Villa - i.e to a bigger club.

    Great article!

  17. Interesting list, though I would have picked Llorente ahead of Rossi (Llorente promoted for his effectiveness, Rossi demoted for his profligacy, especially in big games), and would have made room for Toquero, a stalwart all season for Athletic. Truth is, a lot more players could have been named, but it is a tricky issue, considering that things have been very even this season outside of the top 3 or 4...

  18. id probably add griezmann. and cáceres instead of godín, sice cáceres can play as a rb, lb and cb. i think manzano even made him play in the navas role. godín has yet to recover from the appendicitis impasse, early on the season, and he shares with godín the same virtues and flaws, as a cb.

    also, to consider: la perla reyes, baptista, and haedo valdez and rondón instead of caicedo.

  19. Diego Castro, Sporting Gijon. A step sideways to Getafe next season but destined for bigger things. 9 goals this season and probably the top scoring midfielder unless Pedro is included.

  20. "They(Celtic) also conceded on average a goal a game against Rangers"

    They kept 4 clean sheets in seven games against Rangers. That's the problem with stats they only tell half a story. Don't get me wrong, Celtic do need a commanding centre half and we really need to keep hold of Izaguirre who has been outstanding.

    To those saying Forlan should be in the team. Compared to recent seasons he has been horrendous and has completely fallen out with Quique Sanchez Flores. There isn't even a case for him this season.

  21. Very interesting article. I agree with E. Ramos on the selection of Llorente over Rossi, but both are top shelf players with very different styles. I could see Llorente in the Premiere League one day, for this ability to handle the long-ball, direct-play style of most of the league. I would have also mentioned De Gea for goal keeper, but I understand he's signed to replace Van Der Sar at Man United, making him no longer part of La Liga's future....