Yet another incredible football season has reached its conclusion. The beautiful game has not failed to disappoint, providing the fans with some jaw dropping – as well as heartbreaking – moments over the last nine months.
We have witnessed some brilliant one-off individual displays and a few consistent performers. We’ve had breakout players, impressing at a young age and veterans proving that age is just a number.
As part of our end-of-the-season awards for Europe’s top-five leagues, we’re honouring the Player of the Year and Breakthrough Player of the Year (stars aged 23 and under who made significant strides in 2018/19).
Here, we look at the winners from La Liga.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Lionel Messi, Barcelona, 31 years old
This is surely the award with least possible disagreements. Yet again, Messi led Barcelona to a comfortable title win, with three games to spare. What can be written about the Argentine that has not already been scripted by footballers, managers, supporters and pundits already? He was at his destructive best when in Barcelona’s frontline and displayed creative delicacy from the heart of midfield when needed as well. His combination with Jordi Alba has continued to provide the team some much-needed ammunition that Philippe Coutinho failed to provide. Messi has scored the highest number of goals, provided most assists, recorded most key-passes per 90 minutes, created most big chances and registered the highest xA (Expected assists) in the league. Like always, Messi has been the saviour for Barcelona whenever it looked like things were not going their way. His Champions League campaign did not end like how he would have hoped it would, but in a domestic campaign, no player in Europe has come close this season.
Best performance: Hat-trick v Sevilla
Barcelona trailed twice against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizuan in what was a crucial game, given the dynamics of both teams. Messi carried Barcelona to a 4-2 win with a wonderful hat-trick which included a breathaking volley, a ‘weak’-foot finish and a delicate chip.
What next for Messi?
In La Liga, there is nothing left for Messi to achieve. He has made a mockery of the competition, wrapping up eight of the last 11 league titles. He has done so as a striker, winger, false nine and most recently a No10. Of course, the Argentine will be hungry to defend the title, but next season he will be focusing on an elusive fifth Champions League triumph.
Honourable mentions: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Junior Firpo, Real Betis, 22 years old
Junior has been a consistent performer amid the chaos of Quique Setien’s Real Betis side this season. The 22-year-old boasts everything you would want in a modern-day full-back – defensive attributes, ability to transition very quickly and hit on the counter, footballing intelligence, a desire to both overlap and underlap, good reading of the game and versatility. At 1.84 metres, Junior also holds a significant advantage over his opponents when it comes to winning aerial duels. Injuries have hindered what could have been a flawless season for the left-back. The fact that Betis have suffered heavily in the second half of the season, with Junior sidelined due to injury underlies his importance to the team. The Dominican has featured at left-back, left wing-back and left-wing this season, impressing in all roles that he has undertaken. The future is definitely bright for this well-rounded youngster and it’s no wonder Real Madrid are strongly linked.
Best performance: A goal+assist against Barcelona
Setien managed a 4-3 humbling of Barcelona at the Camp Nou and Junior stole the show with a goal, an assist and constant runs on the flank terrorising Barcelona’s backline.
What next for Firpo?
He was wanted by Real Madrid, but that was before Sergio Reguilon impressed and replaced Marcelo in the starting line-up. However, Junior is surely an upgrade over Reguilon and given how his style of play is similar to that of Marcelo, it’s likely that Los Blancos will go ahead with the move. At Madrid, Junior will be given a chance to develop his crossing, which is an important aspect of Zinedine Zidane’s style. He could be a great replacement for a declining Marcelo, especially with their identical skill-sets. It’s only onward and upward for this young talent.
Honourable mentions: Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
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