A three way battle for Spanish supremacy continues to rage on between FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid as the 2015-16 La Liga season reaches its half way mark.
La Liga has often been accused of being too predictable and at first glance, nothing seems to have changed. Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona continue their tussle at the top of the table; Diego Simeone’s battle hardened Atletico Madrid continue to challenge the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly; Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal continue to fight for the remaining European places on offer; and perennial strugglers – Sporting Gijon, Granada, Levante and Rayo Vallecano – continue their battle to avoid the drop into the Spanish Segunda next season.
However, once we scratch beneath the surface, we find that the current season of the Spanish La Liga is one of the most exciting, enthralling and exhilarating editions witnessed in recent history. High flying Celta Vigo occupied the top spot in the La Liga table and were undefeated until late October. Their 4-1 mauling of the mighty FC Barcelona at the Balaidos continues to be the stand out result of the season thusfar.
Despite scoring a league high 45 goals this season, third place Real Madrid and their manager Rafa Benitez have come under increased pressure from the all quarters following their 4-0 demolition by FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first Clasico of the season. The resurgence of Deportivo La Coruna and Villarreal coupled with the struggles of Valencia and Sevilla have been the other major highlights of the 2015-16 La Liga season thus far.
Despite some starring performances this season, the majestic Lionel Messi and the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo have both failed to make TheHardTackle’s La Liga team of the season so far. Here are the 11 top performing players in La Liga in the first half of the season.
Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas had a stellar start to the 2015-16 La Liga campaign. The Costa Rican International broke the former Los Blancos goalkeeper Miguel Angel’s 40-year-old record when he registered a fifth straight shut out against Granada. The former Levante shot stopper has kept 7 clean sheets this season from 15 games and registered an impressive 39 saves. Despite the heroics of Keylor Navas, Real Madrid slumped to 3 defeats in 5 matches in October and November – including a 4-0 mauling at the hands of a rampant FC Barcelona side at the Santiago Bernabeu. If Navas continues his excellent displays between the sticks throughout the course of the season, Real Madrid may well have a chance of regaining the La Liga crown from their bitter rivals.
Defender: Daniel Wass (Celta Vigo)
Celta Vigo made a brilliant start to their La Liga campaign by remaining unbeaten until late October. One of the stand out performers who is responsible for Celta’s incredible start to the new campaign is Danish International Daniel Wass. Originally signed as a replacement for fellow countryman Michael Krohn-Dehli (who moved to Sevilla), Wass moved to the right back position as a result of injuries to Andreu Fontas, Sergi Gomez and Nemanja Radoja. Wass has scored 2 goals and 2 assist in 17 matches for Celta Vigo this season enroute to becoming an essential cog in manager Eduardo Berizzo’s wheel.
Defender: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
With just 8 goals conceded in 17 matches this season, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid can lay definitive claim to being the most defensively resolute side in Europe. Registering an incredible 11 clean sheets this season, Atletico Madrid’s impenetrable backline has catapulted the capital club to the top of the Spanish La Liga points table. Central to Atletico’s defensive dominance this season is the commanding presence of Uruguayan national team captain Diego Godin at the heart of their backline. Godin’s leadership qualities, excellent reading of the game and terrific aerial ability has firmly sealed his status as one of the most sought after defenders in world football.
Defender: Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
Brazilian left back Filipe Luis was re-signed by Atletico Madrid from Chelsea this summer after spending a season in the wilderness of the English capital. However, upon making his return to the Los Rojiblancos, Luis has fitted seamlessly into Diego Simeone’s defensive system as he continues to make his mark as one of the best left backs in the country. Apart from being an excellent defender in one on one situations, Luis has also emerged as a constant source of attacking threat down the left hand side for Atletico Madrid.
Midfielder: Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona)
FC Barcelona’s perennial water carrier Sergio Busquets takes the first midfield spot in The HardTackle’s La Liga team of the season so far. Criminally under rated for much of his career, the ever reliable Busquets has been a revelation for FC Barcelona in the center of the park this season. Although he has scored no goals and provided just 2 assist so far this season, his average pass accuracy stands at a staggering 88.8%. Busquets, who has been an ever present entity in FC Barcelona’s all conquering title winning sides in recent years, has played all but one matches for the Catalans in La Liga this season. Originally starting off as a defensive midfielder, Busquets has slowly transformed himself into a creative force par excellence in Barcelona’s midfield. The La Masia product will need to be at his imperious best if FC Barcelona are to retain their La Liga crown at the end of the season.
Midfielder: Fabian Orellana (Celta Vigo)
Chilean midfielder Fabian Orellana is part of Celta Vigo’s much vaunted attacking trio (Nolito and Iago Aspas being the other two) that has fueled the club’s explosive start to the 2015-16 La Liga campaign. Perhaps the most under rated of the three, the ever industrious Orellana is Celta’s chief orchestrator in midfield. Orellana has scored 5 goals and assisted 2 more for the Galicians so far this season and is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.
Midfielder: Raul Garcia (Athletic Bilbao)
Former Atletico Madrid midfielder RaA?l Garc a Escudero moved to Basque club Athletic Bilbao this summer seeking more first team opportunities. The versatile Garcia has been Atheltic club’s standout performer in the first half of the 2015-16 La Liga season and is one of the most complete midfielders in the league right now. Garcia is one of the few midfield players in La Liga who have excelled in attacking as well as defensive roles over the years. Garcia has chipped in with 4 goals and 4 assists already this season and is an invaluable part of Ernesto Valverde’s set up at Athletic club. His excellent aerial ability, faultless distribution and commanding presence in midfield has kept Athletic Bilbao within touching distance of automatic Champions League qualification places.
Midfielder: Lucas P rez (Deportivo La Coruna)
Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo have the led the incredible revival of the Galician clubs in the first half of the current La Liga season. A former giant of Spanish football, financial irregularities condemned Deportivo La Coruna to the lower reaches of the La Liga in the past decade or so. This season however, we have seen a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Deportivo and the form of Spanish winger Lucas Perez has been central to that. Arguably the revelation of the season so far, Perez has accumulated an incredible tally of 12 goals and 2 assists from 16 appearances. Currently occupying 6th place in the league table, Deportivo will be heavily dependent on the goal scoring and creating ability of Lucas Perez to sustain their challenge for a European spot come the end of the season.
Midfielder: Neymar Jr. (FC Barcelona)
Arguably the best player in the world at the moment, Brazilian superstar Neymar has put in some virtuoso displays for the Catalans this season. With 14 goals and 7 assists from 14 matches played so far this season, Neymar’s unique ability to single handedly change the course of a football match is second to none. Being an essential component of quite possibly the most formidable attacking trio that the world has ever seen, Neymar has taken his game to another level this season. His incredible solo effort against Villarreal at the Camp Nou will stay etched in the memory of the Barcelona faithful for a long long time. Neymar’s form and fitness over the course of the season will be instrumental in ensuring that the La Liga crown stays at the Camp Nou.
Forward: Imanol Agirretxe (Real Sociedad)
Perhaps the most surprising name on the team sheet, Imanol Agirretxe’s outrageous goal scoring streak is singularly responsible for keeping struggling Real Sociedad out of the relegation zone. Agirrretxe has scored an astonishing 12 goals for the relegation threatened Basque club this season. Despite his team toiling in the bottom half of the league table for much of the season, Agirretxea s incredible goal scoring form has placed him fourth in the race to become this season’s Pichichi a only behind FC Barcelona’s dynamic duo Suarez and Neymar and Real Madrid front man Cristiano Ronaldo. The form of Imanol Agirretxe will be crucial to Sociedada s hopes of staying put in the Spanish top flight come the end of the season.
Forward: Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona)
Uruguayan hitman Luis Suarez is the top scorer in the Spanish La Liga so far this season with 15 goals from 15 matches. Arguably the deadliest striker in the world at the moment, Suarez has formed an almost telepathic understanding with his South American teammates Neymar and Lionel Messi at the club. The Uruguayan has put his off field problems behind him to fire the Catalans to the top of the La Liga table at the start of the new year. Scoring twice in FC Barcelona’s 4-0 mauling of bitter rivals Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu has been undoubtedly been El Pistolero’s defining contribution this season. If Suarez can keep up his goal scoring exploits in the 2nd half of the season, the Blaugrana will surely fancy their chances of retaining the La Liga crown.