La Liga: Best playmakers in final third

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Maestros with the ball at their feet.

Passing is a key ingredient to score a team goal and making accurate passes in the final third of the pitch is often the difference between winning and losing.

But, making precise one-twos, quick passes and one-touch lobs over the defence line is an art form not many footballers are adept at.

However, this comprehensive list by WhoScored gives us an idea of the most creative players in the Spanish top flight.

From Atletico’s central midfield star Koke to Barcelona legend Lionel Messi and his partner in crime Neymar, these are the players with the most successful passes in the final third this season.

Has anyone on this list surprised you?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

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10 potential January La Liga transfers

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There will be no shortage of cash lavished on top stars during the January transfer window and here, Sport360 has rounded-up 10 players who could be on the move this New Year.

Which of these players are most likely to leave?

Join the conversation and let Sport360 know your thoughts – get in touch using #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

1. JOAO CANCELO (Valencia) to Barcelona – €30 million

With Alex Vidal failing to perform as Dani Alves’s replacement, Barcelona have been forced to use Sergi Roberto, a central midfielder by trade, as their right-back. Although Sergi has filled in admirably, Luis Enrique is expected to dive into the transfer market for reinforcements with Cancelo believed to be at the top of his wishlist.

It’s not hard to see why either as he’s been impressive since coming on loan from Benfica (he has since moved permanently to Valencia) and has already received four caps for Portugal since August, scoring three goals.

The only hold up in any potential deal is that Los Che sporting director Suso Pitarch has recently been quoted saying that Cancelo has ruled out a move until at least the summer. With Sergi playing well, could they hold off until then?

Probability meter: 4/10

Joao Cancelo.

Joao Cancelo.

2. JAMES RODRIGUEZ (Real Madrid) to Chelsea – €89 million

When James moved to Real Madrid in 2014, he was considered the new crown jewel in a Galactico line-up that included Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Isco. After a strong start, the Colombian international has been plagued by injury and inconsistent form.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has so far quelled any notion of James leaving, repeatedly stating that he is an integral part of his first-team plans. Bale’s recent injury was expected to allow James to shine, but the Colombian has failed to make use of his opportunity.

If James was to leave, the reported fee would normally be a stumbling block for any team, especially in January, but Chelsea could be in a unique situation to purchase the midfielder should Oscar’s transfer to China go through.

Probability meter: 9/10

James Rodriguez.

James Rodriguez.

3. GEOFFREY KONDOGBIA (Inter Milan) to Valencia – €21 million

Kondogbia has fallen way down the pecking order since joining Inter Milan and is said to be available during the transfer window. Chelsea and Liverpool are reportedly interested in securing his services, with some believing the free transfer of John Obi Mikel to Marseille will free up the necessary room for Chelsea to make a bid for the French international.

With N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic potential obstacles to the starting line-up, Kondogbia may perhaps be better off going to Valencia where he would have a secure starting role and could potentially help Los Che out of the relegation zone.

Probability meter: 5/10

4. EDUARDO CARVALHO (Chelsea) to Atletico Madrid – undisclosed

Eduardo was a part of Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning team and moved to Chelsea on a one-year deal during the summer from Dinamo Zagreb. Behind both Thibaut Courtois and Asmir Begovic, he is yet to make an appearance this season but Diego Simeone may offer him an escape.

With Atletico keeper Jan Oblak believed to be injured for four months with a shoulder injury, Simeone’s men are in need for a steady presence between the sticks while they challenge in both La Liga and Champions League competitions.

Probability meter: 7/10

5. DARIJO SRNA (Shakhtar Donetsk) to Barcelona – undisclosed

The 34-year-old right-back is still considered one of the most solid defenders in Europe despite his age. With Barcelona unhappy with Vidal, the possibility of bringing in Srna could be the perfect option while they wait to make a move for Cancelo next summer.

Pep Guardiola is also said to be interested, having tried to sign the former Croatia captain for Bayern Munich and Barcelona during his tenures at both clubs. Srna may rescind his contract to facilitate this move and, with his Champions League eligibility, the possibility becomes even more intriguing to Barcelona.

Probability meter: 8/10

6. LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona) to Hebei China Fortune – €250 million

OK OK OK. So this is about as far-fetched as Guardiola leaving to coach in China this summer but the numbers being reported are just astronomical and can’t be ignored.

Coached by ex-Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, the Chinese Super League side are said to be offering the Argentine captain an incredible €100 million a year after-tax salary.

This has come on the heels of a reported breakdown in contract negotiations between Messi and Barcelona over wages, although one would expect that even these life-changing numbers wouldn’t quite turn Messi’s career path to the Far East.

Probability meter: 1/10

Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi.

7. STEVEN N’ZONZI (Sevilla) to Manchester City – €30 million

The French international has been incredible so far this season with Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester City all highly impressed with the bruising midfielder.

Although he is cup-tied for the Champions League, the loss of Ilkay Gundogan has seen Guardiola search for replacements and it appears he has earmarked N’Zonzi, while a reported release clause of only €30 million is not likely to give Manchester City pause.

Chelsea’s interest (Conte may see him as a more dynamic option than Nemanja Matic) and Gundogan’s return before the summer may deter him, but Guardiola and Manchester City are rarely refused.

Probability meter: 6/10

Steven N'Zonzi.

Steven N’Zonzi.

8. BOJAN KRKIC (Stoke City) to Valencia – €3 million

Needing an attacking boost after suffering their worst start to a season since 1986, Valencia have contacted Stoke regarding the availability of former Barcelona prodigy Bojan. The striker is thought to be keen on a move away from England despite just signing a contract extension until 2020.

Bojan had a strong start to his career in the Premier League before suffering a devastating knee injury, although he returned fit again last season to help The Potters reach the League Cup semi-final and achieve a 9th place league finish.

Probability meter: 5/10

9. DANI PAREJO (Valencia) to Southampton – €20 million

The Los Che player has been plagued by a loss of form, although interest remains high with Inter Milan, Sevilla and Monaco reported to have inquired about the creative central midfielder.

Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli has expressed frustration with Parejo and has hinted at his availability in the winter transfer after a number of off-field issues.

Probability meter: 8/10

10. INAKI WILLIAMS (Athletic Bilbao) to Liverpool – €53 million

Interest may have cooled in recent weeks, but it is believed the Bilbao striker is the number one target of Jurgen Klopp. The striker has been compared to Borussia Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and is on the fringes of the Spain squad.

The reported buy-out clause of €53 million is massive, although Klopp believes that his tantalising potential on the front line could be well worth the purchase as potential boon for this year and Liverpool’s future.

Probability meter: 3/10

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Phil Ball: Taking stock of La Liga at the festive break

Phil Ball 19/12/2016
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It has been an eventful season so far.

Back in the old analogue days of 1990, the Spanish league authorities decided to implement a two-week winter break over the Christmas period. The growing demands of European competition, among other factors, persuaded them to make the decision and, in the main, it was well received. Ice-bound leagues such as those in the UK continued to merrily skate through a fixture log-jam over the festive season, but Spain took a rest, earning it some envious glances from European neighbours plus some accusations of indolence. In 2015 the tradition was broken, mainly due to the early start of the European Championship, but this season has seen it restored. The break comes 16 games in and brings forward the psychological frontier of 19 games as La Liga’s official half-way point – usually the week when journalists like to take stock of what has been, and what is likely to come. They still do, but the Christmas break nevertheless conditions the league’s progress in interesting ways.

This weekend’s games were not strictly the final ones before the weekend of January 7-8 because this week the return legs of the King’s Cup 4th round are played. The top-flight clubs at this stage play away to lower-league opposition by default in the opening game, so that if they resolve matters in the first ninety minutes, the subsequent midweek fixture can be taken care of by the habitual bench-warmers of the home squad. Take Atletico Madrid, for example. On an uncharacteristic run of only one win in five, with a weird crisis regarding the sudden change in the design of their club badge, 675 minutes without a goal from Antoine Griezmann and goalkeeper Jan Oblak out injured for two months, the pre-Christmas gloom was palpable over the Calderon. The home game against Las Palmas represented the only possible way of breaking up the bad vibes and stifling the media speculation of ‘unas vacaciones movidas’ [a stressed-out Christmas], whatever that was supposed to mean. Well, it usually either means the sacking of the coach – unlikely in this case – or a frantic dip into the transfer market – rarely a good idea at this time of the year.

Atletico resolved the problem by winning 1-0 from a goal by Saul, but the performance was hardly vintage. At the very least, Wednesday night’s cup game at home to Guijuelo, hovering above the relegation spots in Segunda B Division, should now keep the substitutes warm. Atletico won the first round in Guijuelo 6-0. This was just desserts for the little club from near Salamanca, for the sin of bearing a name that no foreigner has ever pronounced correctly since the dawn of time, but anyway they’ve done their bit to help Atletico’s psychological well-being over the festive period.

The win moved them to a mere nine points shy of leaders Real Madrid, but they’ll be thankful for small mercies. The day after this timid 1-0 victory, their noisy neighbours were over in Japan disputing the FIFA Club World Cup final against Kashima Antlers in Yokohama, a two-hour drive for Kashima’s fans. Whatever your view of this slightly annoying tournament, its impact on this period of La Liga’s calendar has become significant, basically due to the fact that Spanish clubs [well, Barca and Real Madrid] have travelled to the tournament five times since Barcelona broke Spain’s duck in the competition, in 2009. It means that the participating team gets an early break from the league, their game is postponed until a date can be agreed [usually at the big clubs’ convenience] and the game-in-hand factor thereon hangs over every week’s statistics, until the game is finally resolved. The long journey to the tournament and the almost immediate call to action can also damage a team’s rhythm. In 2014, Ancelotti’s Madrid were on a run of 22 consecutive victories after winning the tournament in Morocco, only to return home and suffer an alarming drop in form which eventually allowed Barcelona to win a league that had seemed gift-wrapped and under the Madrid tree by Christmas.

Real Madrid won the game in Japan 4-2, of course, but not after a struggle, with the Antlers battling back and taking a shock 2-1 lead at one point. Madrid won the game in extra-time courtesy of a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo, but only after the Zambian referee had mysteriously decided not to award Sergio Ramos a second yellow for a foul on Kashima in the 90th minute – with the home player about to launch an interesting-looking counter. Interestingly the Spanish press have so far declined to comment on this being a further example of Ramos’ ability to save his side in the final minutes of crucial games. Still, it’s another trophy to add to the creaking shelves of the cabinet, but I wish I’d not had to listen to the appalling commentary by Spain’s TVE1 team, describing the situation at 2-1 to Kashima as a potential ‘ridículo histórico’ [history-making joke]. One was tempted to ring the TV station and ask if perhaps Madrid could have been given the trophy without playing, since presumably it was so pointless that any other team could possibly aspire to winning the game. Kashima didn’t look so bad to me and it was a great game. Shibasaki’s two goals were the best of the match, and since he’s only valued at 2 million on the market, Madrid’s bargain-hunting scouts might actually have learned his name by now.

Barcelona will also sleep more easily over the break, resolving their derby game at home to Espanyol rather more easily than some had predicted. The 4-1 win lifts them back above Sevilla and within three points of Real, but with the extra game played. Still, it looks a little better in the papers come morning. Their home return tie against third-tier Hercules on Wednesday looks slightly more problematic, the first game against a side of mainly Barcelona reserves ending in a 1-1 draw, and so it will be interesting to see which first-teamers are hauled into action or at least reserved on the bench , just in case the visitors get a little bit too Herculean. Players such as Leo Messi or Luis Suarez will feel that they have earned their rest after their heroics on Sunday night, particularly Messi who seemed to be trying to emulate an outrageous video-game exaggeration of the real thing, particularly during his run to assist the second goal for Suarez. As Shakespeare might have written of the Argentine – is this reality or a console I see before me? Poor Espanyol were on a decent run too, but when Messi is in the mood you might as well shrug your shoulders and just think about the next game, against terrestrial beings – Deportivo on Friday January 6th, to be precise.

At the other end of the cosmos, Osasuna, Granada and Sporting were busy endorsing their credentials as the early candidates for relegation, all of the losing their games. For Osasuna, their miserable seven-point haul from the first 16 games looks almost impossible to turn around, unless they can gather their wits over Christmas and pledge to start again from zero. It has happened before, and a run of wins in the New Year might bring hope, but they’ll need to improve things fast. Those first two games in January at home to Valencia and away to Granada will be classic dog-eat-dog encounters. If they lose them, adios amigos – or in Basque, agur lagunak. Meanwhile they, and other teams in a similar predicament, can at least staunch the suffering for a while and hope to recharge batteries for a fresh start in January. In almost religious terms, the break offers hope for the downtrodden, and a happy time for the winners to bask in the glow of their achievements so far. However, the beauty of it all resides in the proven fact that everything can change. Beware of feeling sorry for yourself, but of complacency too.

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