Another day, another La Liga season in Spain. Real Madrid managed to usurp Barcelona as the country’s best side as they were successful in their quest for a 32nd title, but the Blaugrana still managed to break records of their own in what turned out to be Josep Guardiola’s final year in charge. At the other end of the league spectrum, the biggest upset was perhaps the relegation of Villarreal to the Segunda Division, a side which started the campaign in the Champions League. But down went the Yellow Submarine, alongside Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander.
Inside Futbol sets up this season’s best starting eleven in La Liga, in a 3-4-3 formation:
Goalkeeper – Javi Varas (Sevilla)
Barcelona’s Victor Valdes might have won his fifth Zamora trophy for being the best goalkeeper in La Liga, but Javi Vargas was the division’s finest all-round keeper. Despite his side conceding no less than 47 goals, he put on numerous man-of-the-match performances, with his most notable being Sevilla’s 0-0 away draw at Barcelona, where he saved a late penalty from Lionel Messi to keep his side in the game. At this point, Varas looks to have seen off Andres Palop as the team’s first choice custodian.
Centre-back – Adil Rami (Valencia)
Valencia supporters had to wait to see Adil Rami wearing a white shirt, as he was loaned back to former club Lille as soon as he was signed in January 2011. Once plying his trade with Valencia however, there began a love story between him and his new club. A centre-back with an intimidating physique – he stands at 1.90 metres – Rami was almost always one of the most accomplished players on the pitch, helping Valencia to secure third place in the standings as well reaching the Europa League semi-final. Easily the best centre-back in Spain this season.
Centre-back – Sergio Ballesteros (Levante)
At 36 years of age, the fact that Sergio Ballesteros takes a place as one of La Liga’s better players is truly astonishing. The Burjassot-born defender has become a cult hero at the small Valencian club of Levante since his arrival from Mallorca in 2008, and was certainly at the heart of things as his side impressed at the beginning of the season, being one of two sides to inflict defeat on eventual champions Real Madrid. With 36 appearances during the league season, he is one of the reasons behind Levante being in the Europa League next season.
Centre-back – Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
It was Ricardo Carvalho’s injury at the start of the season that pushed Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho to decide to employ Ramos in the centre of defence next to Pepe. Since then, the Portuguese trainer has hardly looked back as this pairing proved to be one of the best for Los Blancos in recent years. From this position, Ramos still managed three goals and five assists, putting on sublime displays time and time again, notably in the 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Camp Nou. His disciplinary record remains as awful as ever, with eleven yellow cards and a red, and it is something the stopper will need to address as his defensive duties increase from now on.
Right midfielder – Angel di Maria (Real Madrid)
With just 22 games under his belt, of which only 16 were as a starter, Di Maria was not really at the heart of things this season, but his contribution could not have been any greater, as he grabbed 15 assists for his side, while managing five goals himself. The Argentine scored one and provided the other two in the victory over Villarreal last October, repeating the same feat against Sevilla in December. At one point, Di Maria saw himself benched in favour of an emerging Kaka, but the former Benfica man knew how to win back his coach’s confidence in the final months of the season.
Central midfielder – Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Generally, it was a season to forget for Barcelona, as they failed to win their biggest targets and saw Josep Guardiola leave after four terms in charge. As Xavi showed signs of ageing legs and tiredness, while Cesc Fabregas’ form hit a wall after a fiery start to the season, up came Iniesta to carry the midfield mantle. His presence in the side ultimately became Barcelona’s lucky charm, as he embarked on a 50-match unbeaten streak. He might have scored only twice, but he still managed nine assists. Expect him to continue to be the heartbeat of Barcelona for many years to come.
Central midfielder – Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)
Mesut Ozil started the season with high hopes, inheriting the number 10 jersey at Real Madrid. His year nevertheless got off to a bad start as he was sent off for an altercation with David Villa in the Spanish Super Cup. Gradually though, he started to impress, soon becoming an indispensable feature in Mourinho’s side. Ozil grabbed three assists in the 5-1 victory over Granada in January, created the first and scored the second in the title-winning game against Mallorca, and capped off his season with two goals in the same game as Real Madrid hit 100 points. The German’s four strikes might be a small number, but his 17 assists greatly aided his side in reaching 121 league goals.
Left midfielder – Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)
If Real Sociedad are grateful to successfully see out another top tier season, then much is down to left midfielder Antoine Griezmann. The French expatriate turned himself into one of the little Basque side’s best players, always being at the centre of the play. He scored the equalising goal in Real Sociedad’s 2-2 home draw against Barcelona, and managed the two sole strikes in both league games against Valencia, as well as scoring two and assisting the third in the 3-0 home victory against doomed Racing Santander at the end of April. A bright future is expected to await Griezmann, at club and international level.
Right winger – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
A third consecutive Ballon d’Or award only confirmed his supremacy during the campaign. Lionel Messi continues to break record after record, and the 2011/12 season was surely his best ever. The Argentine racked up 50 league goals and 11 in the Champions League, winning both the Pichichi award and European Golden Boot, but remarkably, his side still failed to win either trophy. He scored hat-tricks against Osasuna, and Atletico Madrid, and struck four against Valencia and Espanyol, but his biggest night of the campaign remained 7th March, where he grabbed five against Bayer Leverkusen. Having broken Gerd Muller’s record by scoring 74 goals in a season, the sky is the limit for the Argentine.
Striker – Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
Realistically, competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid was never an option for Valencia, as the club continues to crumble under staggering debt and the financial installments due for a new stadium, the Nou Mestalla. Still, Los Che held their own as winners of Spain’s “other” Liga, surviving a potential scare from nouveau-riche Malaga, and much is down to Roberto Soldado, the highest standing Spaniard in the Pichichi race with 17 goals. He started his season with an impressive hat-trick against Racing Santander, scored the winner against Atletico Madrid in the following matchday, as well as managing another hat-trick away to Athletic Bilbao.
Left winger – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo continued to break records this season, smashing 46 goals in the league and making sure he scored against all 19 opposing teams, a run which included the winner against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. He managed an astonishing 102 shots on target, keeping goalkeepers on their toe all game long. The Portuguese even became more of a team player, managing 12 league assists, two more than his number last season. In truth, Ronaldo is the reason Real Madrid surpassed Barcelona as Spain’s elite team this term. And he will give everything to make sure they continue to stay at the top.