With the La Liga season about to move into the second half of the campaign, Spanish football expert Andy West picks his team of the season so far…
Goalkeeper: Unai Simon
Goals conceded: 12
Clean sheets: 9
Athletic Club played a sneaky trick when they sold Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea for €80 million last year…they had an even better goalkeeper up their sleeves. Simon has made the position his own and made Athletic one of the toughest teams to score against. The 22 year-old is big and commanding, but also possesses lightning reflexes which have allowed him to make some superb saves. His shots saved percentage of 78.6% is the best out of all keepers in La Liga.
Right back: Jesus Navas
Passes per game: 71.9
Despite being one of the oldest players in La Liga, Sevilla’s skipper is also one of the most energetic. Navas’ speedy and purposeful forays down the right have been a key factor behind the Andalusian team’s strong start to the season, and his conversion from winger to full-back has given fresh life to his career. He has started every game and made more passes than any other player – just ahead of his teammate Ever Banega. He has also delivered more crosses than anyone else.
Centre back: Raphael Varane
Aerial duels won per game: 3.1
For years we have been saying that Raphael Varane has the potential to become one of the best central defenders in the world. Now, at last, he is fully meeting those expectations. Varane has developed a greater sense of assurance and maturity over the last couple of years, providing a solid rock to complement Sergio Ramos’ more gung-ho style, and there has been no more reliable or commanding performer in La Liga than the Frenchman, who is now truly in his prime.
Centre back: Inigo Martinez
Clearances per game: 4.2
Pass completion: 80.6%
Basque football has always been characterised by its hard-working and committed style, and nobody fits that image better than Athletic Club defender Martinez. Alongside equally impressive centre back partner Yeray Alvarez, the former Real Sociedad defender has great positional awareness and reads the game superbly to sniff out danger. Being left-footed also allows him to add great balance to the defence, and he is a reliable distributor to play out from the back.
Left back: Renan Lodi
Successful crosses: 29
Replacing Filipe Luis was never going to be an easy task, but Atletico have struck gold with the acquisition of another Brazilian. Lodi has quickly established himself as a trusted member of Diego Simeone’s back four, defending with the necessary alertness and offering a constant attacking threat with his direct and dangerous running down the left. He is an excellent crosser of the ball and, at the age of 21, he has all the tools to become a key player for the Rojiblancos for many years to come.
Defensive midfield: Fernando
Interceptions per game: 1.9
Pass completion: 91.1%
Another masterstroke signing by Sevilla’s famed sporting director Monchi, veteran midfielder Fernando has arguably been the signing of the season after being snapped up for just €4.5 million from Galatasaray. Fernando has made the third-highest number of interceptions per game, and his intelligent positioning has provided the bedrock for Sevilla’s strategy of control, selflessly serving as the base of a solid structure which gives Ever Banega the freedom to orchestrate the team’s attacking play.
Midfield: Dani Parejo
Chances created: 34
Valencia’s captain has led by example to steer his team through a highly delicate start to the season which saw a change of manager and serious discord behind the scenes. Parejo has made the fifth-highest number of passes in the league and most of those have been inch-perfect deliveries onto his teammates’ toes, but more than stats his leadership skills and willingness to take responsibility for his team have been so important. He can dictate the rhythm and tempo of a game like few others, and Valencia would be half the team without him.
Midfield: Martin Odegaard
The revelation of the season, Odegaard has confirmed himself as a world-class talent with a glorious career in front of him. Capable of finding pockets of space in the final third and then using that space to devastating effect, he is a creative talent almost beyond compare. Whether it’s drifting onto his left foot to shoot or picking out exquisite passes into the danger zone (he has played 54 balls into the box, more than anyone else), the gifted young Norwegian has a full bag of tricks and has made Real Sociedad a must-watch team.
Attacking midfield: Lionel Messi
He’s Lionel Messi. Enough said.
Centre forward: Karim Benzema
Real Madrid’s new talisman has continued where he finished last season, knitting together his team’s play with beautiful link-up work – he has created 38 chances, more than any other forward – and providing a constant goal threat. Benzema’s movement and first touch are glorious, and the Frenchman is playing as a false nine more than ever to help create a fluid and fluent attacking approach. Benzema has stepped out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow in magnificent style and is now a real leader for his team.
Centre forward: Luis Suarez
Suarez has been just as deadly as ever, recording 18 direct goal participations in 17 games and leading La Liga’s assists chart. His telepathic understanding with Lionel Messi has allowed Barcelona to pick up far more points than their overall performances have merited, and the Uruguayan’s importance is shown by the remarkable stat that he either scored or assisted all of the team’s last 10 league goals. He will be very sorely missed over the coming weeks after being sidelined by a knee injury.
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