With the La Liga season at its midway point, Spanish football expert Andy West picks out the players who have stood out so far.
Here is his La Liga Team of the Half-Season…
Picking a man between the posts for the La Liga team of the half-season is both the easiest and most difficult decision to make, because La Liga is very well stocked with excellent goalkeepers. Honourable mentions go to Marko Dmitrovic, Edgar Badia, Jaume Domenech, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Fernando Pacheco and Thibaut Courtois…but none of them are as good as Jan Oblak. Is any goalkeeper as good as Jan Oblak? Probably not.
At right back Kieran Trippier can be seen as a mini-microcosm of the whole Atleti team: adventurous in attack, solid at the back, full of running, hard-working and impressively consistent. He has more assists than any other full-back in La Liga and has been indispensable to Atletico’s success at both ends of the field.
Another big reason for Atletico boasting the best defensive record in Europe is the relentless reliability of Stefan Savic. The Montenegrin has been getting better year after year, and has now fully taken over from Diego Godin as the no-nonsense, no-mistakes, no-fuss central defensive pillar of Diego Simeone’s team. Not eye-catching, but as solid as a rock.
In the words of Spain national team coach Luis Enrique, Villarreal’s rising star Pau Torres has everything: he is tall and strong, excellent on the ball, pressures the ball well, reads the game, marks opposition attackers rightly, and he’s good looking. Luis Enrique’s words, not mine.
Left-back is a tricky position to choose because there are no obvious candidates, but in this rather ahem attack-minded team a strong defensive option is Alfonso Espino of Cadiz. He ranks second in the league in tackles and fourth in blocks, and offers good delivery into the box when he does come forward.
The most complete midfielder in La Liga is Mikel Merino of Real Sociedad. Offers great support to his defensive line, knits play together in the centre of the field, is aggressive off the ball and provides his forward line with perfectly timed and weighted passes.
At the age of 35, Luka Modric has been rolling back the years this season with a series of sublime displays that have left Zinedine Zidane with little option but to keep on playing him every week. There’s nothing really new to say about Modric’s smooth talents, except that he even managed to score his first ever headed goal for Real Madrid.
The first name on the teamsheet? Lionel Messi. Because…well, because he’s Lionel Messi. Full stop, period, no debate, move on.
Along with Merino, the most important player for La Liga’s most watchable team, Real Sociedad, is skipper and left winger Mikel Oyarzabal – shown by the fact that his absence through injury in December coincided precisely with the team’s drastic loss of form. Oyarzabal is a wonderfully elegant creative force who also offers a big goal threat.
For a few weeks in December Iago Aspas was by far the best player in the league, and his absence since then has been a massive blow to Celta Vigo. During the opening weeks of the season he was the only positive about Celta and it’s very impressive to see a player in a mid-table team co-leading the league in combined goals and assists.
Leading the forward line, it can only be Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has been the signing of the season, with many of his joint league best 12 goals proving decisive in establishing Atletico’s seven point lead at the top of the table. Despite now being 34 years old he is still arguably the best pure goalscorer in the world, and he looks set for a fifth La Liga title in seven years.
On the bench – and yes this is just an excuse to name a second eleven: Marko Dmitrovic, Jesus Navas, Jules Kounde, Mario Hermoso, Javi Galan, Koke, Frenkie De Jong, Pedri, Sergio Canales, Marcos Llorente and Gerard Moreno.