Picking a Best XI for this La Liga season was pretty difficult. The traditional big two not dominating in the way they used to has made the league much more exciting and unpredictable and made my job doing this that little bit harder. Some of my choices may come across as a little idiosyncratic, but football is all about opinions, isn’t it?
GK – Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid)
Oblak’s heroics at Anfield as Atlético survived a Liverpool onslaught in normal time will have come as no surprise to anyone who has regularly watched Los Colchoneros in the last few seasons but probably represented the moment that he gained the international recognition he has long deserved. He continues to perform miracles on a weekly basis to rescue points for Diego Simeone’s men.
RB – Ander Capa (Athletic Club)
After leaving Athletic as a youth, Capa took the scenic route to La Liga, starring for Eibar as they rose from Segunda B to the top flight in three successive seasons. He re-joined his first club in the summer of 2018 and has since shown that he’s an indispensable starter for Gaizka Garitano, whether at right-back or as a more solid option on the right-wing.
He started this season in fine form, providing three assists in the opening weeks, most famously for Aritz Aduriz’s unforgettable winner against Barça as Athletic briefly topped the table early on. Although Athletic have been unable to maintain that early form, in Capa they have one of La Liga’s Mr Consistents.
LB – Sergio Reguilón (Sevilla)
One of the few bright spots in Real Madrid’s miserable 2018-19 season was the form of Reguilón. Brought into the first team by Santiago Solari, his old coach for Castilla, he was an almost ever-present during the winter with a string of impressive performances, particularly in the Madrid derby, and looked set to be the long-term replacement for Marcelo but after the return of Zinedine Zidane, he barely featured.
It was still a surprise when he was moved on in the summer, albeit temporarily, with Sevilla being the ones to benefit and got off to a flying start with a goal and assist on his debut and domestically at least has nailed down the left-back spot as his own, and owing to Sevilla’s tactical flexibility has shown himself adept playing as an attacking wing-back too.
CB – Dakonam Djené (Getafe)
Djené was one of my players of the season for 2018-19 after helping Geta qualify for the Europa League and I was amazed he remained at the Coliseum for this season, given the affordability of his €25m buy-out clause and some of the crazy money being paid for defenders.
He has been a rock for José Bordalas’ side as they boast the fourth-best defensive record in La Liga and was particularly impressive as Getafe shut out Ajax at the Coliseum in the Europa League in February.
CB – Felipe (Atlético Madrid)
Filling Diego Godín’s boots at the Wanda Metropolitano was never going to be an easy task and Felipe was not initially one of Diego Simeone’s more heralded summer signings, but the €20m paid to take him from Porto now looks a relative bargain.
He has been a level-head and provided continuity and leadership in an Atlético defence which has been in a constant state of flux this season, with performances like the ones he put in over two legs against Liverpool suggesting that the immediate future of Atleti’s defence is in good hands.
CM – Casemiro (Real Madrid)
Key to Real Madrid’s defensive improvement this season has been the work done by their Brazilian midfielder in screening the back four. He does have his moments going forward (such as his vital two goals which won the match against Sevilla in January) but most of his best work goes unnoticed by the general public at large.
Leading the league in terms of the number of tackles and interceptions and only trailing Getafe’s Jaime Mata in terms of number of fouls indicates the amount of work Casemiro gets through providing the platform for his more creative teammates to do their job and he continues to warrant his title as Madrid’s true master of football’s dark arts – he’s only picked up nine bookings.
CM – Fede Valverde (Real Madrid)
In previous seasons the Kroos-Modric-Casemiro midfield triumvirate has been more or less unchallenged at the Bernabéu, but the 21-year-old Uruguayan international has staked his claim with a breakout season of impressive energetic performances, even if many will just remember this season for his professional foul on Morata in the dying moments of the Super Cup Final. He’s come a long way from looking overwhelmed by the rigours of La Liga during Deportivo’s relegation season in 2017-18 to arguably being one of the first names on Zidane’s teamsheet. It’s perhaps telling that all three of Los Blancos’ league defeats this season have come when Zidane has omitted him from the starting XI.
CM – Martin Odegaard (Real Sociedad)
Before the start of this season, any mention of Odegaard’s name was usually preceded with “Whatever happened to…”
He had arrived at the Santiago Bernabéu to much fanfare in early 2015, Madrid having beaten off competition from most of the top clubs in Europe to sign him and before the season was over, he had made his first-team debut, making him Real Madrid’s youngest ever player. But the path to stardom wasn’t as clear as some had thought and Odegaard somewhat dropped off the radar, playing in the rough and tumble Segunda B before a couple of encouraging loan spells in the Eredivisie.
His loan to Real Sociedad was seen by many as make or break for his chances of proving he could one day be a Bernabéu regular and it’s fair to say he’s grabbed this chance with both hands. Helped by coach Imanol Agualcil, who has built an attacking young team around him, Odegaard has shone in the league and with three goals in the Cup, including one in the win at the Bernabéu, he has been vital in guiding La Real to their first final in over 30 years.
RWF – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
When the La Liga season was stopped, Barcelona sat top of the table and the main reason they were was Messi. He’s again the top goalscorer in the league, with 19 in 22 matches and leads the way in assists with 12 so far.
But Messi’s importance can’t just be summed up in statistics alone, to do so diminishes the majesty of the player. Even in the all-conquering days of Guardiola and Luis Enrique’s teams, despite the line-up of stars, Messi was the marquee attraction. Now, with Barcelona in a transitional period on the pitch and wracked with boardroom disharmony off it, he has become even more – he appears as the heart and soul of the club.
Still capable of the extraordinary, his goal to settle the game against Atlético in December was one that only he could score, but all too aware that the clock is ticking. As he picked up his sixth Ballon d’Or 24 hours after that goal at the Wanda, he admitted that he might not have long left in his career. We should treasure him while we still can.
LWF – Lucas Pérez (Alavés)
Lucas’ return to La Liga in the summer passed many people by, his time in the Premier League was not a success and he struggled to make an impression last time out in Spain, only scoring eight goals on loan as Depor were relegated in 2017-18. But together with fellow Premier League flop Joselu, he has formed one of the league’s best strike partnerships this season, scoring 11 goals and assisting five, helping keep Alavés clear of the relegation scrap and recalling memories of his 2015-16 season at Depor, where his 17 goals had many calling for his inclusion in the Spain squad.
CF – Chimy Ávila (Osasuna)
The man with the most impressive thighs in La Liga since Roberto Carlos has been one of the most enjoyable players to watch in this season. After impressing for ultimately-doomed Huesca last time out, Ávila moved to Osasuna in the summer and immediately made an impact, grabbing the winner in at Leganés where the hosts had totally dominated the game. There are other, more prolific strikers but few who score such varied goals as Chimy – witness his second goal against La Real is December where he flicks the ball up over a defender and then nods it in himself. Sadly his season was cut short by a torn cruciate ligament in January, just as rumours were circulating that the likes of Barcelona and Sevilla were interested in securing his signature.
Unai Simon (Athletic Club) – Athletic just keep producing great goalkeepers.
Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid) – Bouncing back to his best after a season-long World Cup hangover last time out.
Nabil Fekir (Real Betis) – Been a joy to watch in an often infuriating to watch Betis side.
Portu (Real Sociedad) – Second only to Messi in terms of assists, one of the bargains of last summer.
Jorge Molina (Getafe) – At 38, he’s older than the current iteration of the club he plays for, but still capable of mixing it with the best.