La Liga 2020 Awards: Benzema, Moreno and Pedri feature in our rundown

Andy West 16:13 31/12/2020
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  • 2020 has been a footballing year to remember, or at least certainly one you won’t forget, he is our rundown of the best of La Liga.

    Best goal: Gerard Moreno, Villarreal vs Valencia

    It was with much sadness that Spanish football waved goodbye to the great Santi Cazorla at the end of last season, when the much-loved midfielder departed Villarreal for a new adventure in Qatar with Al Sadd. But Cazorla did not leave without delivering a special parting gift, providing an astonishing moment of glorious skill to illuminate his team’s derby victory over Valencia towards the end of the season.

    Villarreal were already leading 1-0 on the stroke of half-time, when goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo launched a long and high clearance straight downfield. The man who best anticipated the trajectory of the ball was Cazorla, who sneaked in behind the Valencia defence to the edge of the area. Realising that teammate Gerard Moreno had made the run alongside him, when the ball dropped Cazorla met it with a sumptuous instant volleyed lay-off, his left foot cushioning the ball sideways directly into the path of his teammate.

    There was still a lot for Moreno to do, but the striker made it look ridiculously easy as he greeted Cazorla’s pass with a vicious first-time left-footed volley, sending a perfect connection speeding past helpless visiting keeper Jasper Cillessen and into the bottom right corner.

    In three touches – Asenjo, Cazorla, Moreno – the ball had travelled 70 yards into the back of the net without even touching the ground. And although 2020 saw a lot of great goals in La Liga, for its beautiful yet shocking combination of finesse and ferocity, the Cazorla to Moreno connection tops the lot.

    Best game: Granada 3 Huesca 3

    Granada versus Huesca on an early-December afternoon isn’t normally the type of occasion to stand out on a fixture calendar, but it proved to deliver stunning entertaining with action galore and more than one late twist.

    Huesca – who were still looking for their first win of the season – struck first with a well-placed header from Mikel Rico, before Luis Suarez raced through to level for Granada before the break. The visitors moved 2-1 ahead early in the second half with a sliding finish from Borja Garcia, and thought they had claimed all three points when calamitous Granada defending allowed Shinji Okazaki to chip the ball into an unguarded net from 40 yards after 82 minutes.

    But the goals kept on flowing: first, in the 88th minute, Jorge Molina met a right wing cross from Darwin Machis with a glancing header into the far corner. Then, two minutes later, another delivery from the right flank was dispatched for the equaliser by a thumping header from German Sanchez. 3-3 after three goals in eight minutes, but still the drama wasn’t over: in the last seconds of injury time, Molina raced clear of the Huesca defence and thrashed goalwards a fierce left-footed shot which smashed against the post and away to safety.

    That was the last kick of the game, and left Huesca feeling simultaneously devastated that they hadn’t claimed all three points but mightily relieved that they had one…mixed emotions to perfectly sum up a pulsating game of football.

    Best signing: Pedri

    Barcelona haven’t got many things right in the transfer market over recent years (yes, they really did spend 400 million euros on Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann) but landing Pedri for an initial fee of just 5 million euros was a truly amazing deal.

    When the midfielder was snapped up from Las Palmas at the age of 17 last summer, most observers – including this writer – assumed that he would be loaned out for the coming campaign, or spend time gathering experience with the club’s B team before stepping up to senior level. Yes, he was a gifted technician, but he was also physically very small and frail, and lacked the necessary experience to help his team during what seemed certain to be a tough transitional season.

    How wrong we were.

    From the moment he first stepped onto the pitch in Barca’s season opener against Villarreal, Pedri has looked the part…and then some. In addition to his soft-as-velvet first touch, his clever range of passing, his instinctive movement into space, his eye for a killer ball into the box and his wonderful dribbling skills, Pedri has stood out for his mental fortitude, never shying away from the ball or a challenge despite the turbulent times being encountered by his team.

    In short, Pedri looks capable of leading Barca into a new era for many years to come, and he could prove to be one of the best-value transfers not just of 2020, but all-time.

    Best moment: Dmitrovic vs Ocampos

    Towards the end of last season Sevilla hosted Eibar for a game with plenty of meaning for both clubs, as the hosts chased a top-four finish while the Basque visitors were searching for points in their battle against relegation.

    It was largely a humdrum affair, before a dramatic late turn of events allowed the game to take a small place in Spanish football history.

    Deep inside stoppage time, Sevilla were hanging onto a 1-0 lead when goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik was injured in a penalty box collision and could not continue. Home team coach Julen Lopetegui had already made all his substitutions, so he needed an outfield player to don the gloves…and up stepped winger Lucas Ocampos, who had earlier opened the scoring.

    With 100 minutes already elapsed due to Vaclik’s lengthy treatment, Ocampos was immediately called into action as a corner was swung into the area and the loose ball dropped invitingly at the feet of none other than Marko Dmitrovic, the Eibar goalkeeper who had come upfield for the corner as a desperation measure. Dmitrovic swiped the ball goalwards and thought he had scored a dramatic equaliser, only for Ocampos to stick out his hand and make a remarkable save.

    It was a gloriously surreal moment, providing a bizarre trivia teaser to baffle your friends: which winger once made a 101st minute save to deny the opposition goalkeeper a close-range equaliser?

    Best player: Karim Benzema

    One of the key moments in last season’s title race came on 1st February, when a tightly-contested Madrid derby was settled with Ferland Mendy curling in a left-footed cross and Karim Benzema getting into a perfect position to finish past Jan Oblak.

    That was just one of several highlights for Benzema over the course of 2020, with the French striker particularly coming to the fore during his team’s triumphant march to the title after June’s resumption. During his team’s decisive ten-game winning run Benzema provided seven goals, including both in a 2-1 home win over Villarreal which mathematically sealed the title – a fitting way for the team’s best player to conclude the campaign.

    But numbers have never really been able to capture Benzema’s talents, and his smooth and selfless link-up play, always looking to bring teammates into the action and knit together the team from front to back, was arguably the most important characteristic of Real’s title triumph.

    And with the new season now approaching its midway point, Benzema is still playing as well as ever. He is currently leading La Liga in both goals (8) and assists (5), leading his coach Zinedine Zidane to declare him as the best French striker of all time. Whether or not that lofty claim is justified is a matter of some debate, but it’s certainly tough to argue against the case for naming Karim Benzema as La Liga’s best player of 2020.