La Liga Team of the Season
The second of our end of season awards, in association with Castrol Rankings, is the La Liga Team of the Season. With Barcelona and Real Madrid both finishing well clear of the rest of the field, it's an amazingly loaded team; let's just hope for more diversity next season. They line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has become so popular this season.
GK: VICTOR VALDES - BARCELONA (Castrol Ranking: 237) - Perfectly synchronised with his back four, Valdes won this season's Zamora (the trophy for conceding the least goals) by a ten-goal margin. Masterful in one-on-one situations and excellent with his feet, he is key to Barcelona's high pressure approach, playing as a sweeper when required. Valdes has also matured noticeably in his public appearances and has been rewarded with a long overdue call-up to the Spanish national side.
RB: DANIEL ALVES - BARCELONA (16) - Even though he finished the season in worse form than Real Madrid rival Sergio Ramos (48), the Brazilian maintained a higher level of consistency overall. He is instrumental in Barcelona's system, providing width, pace and attacking flair down the flanks, and his stamina during the full 90 minutes is enviable.
CB: GERARD PIQUE - BARCELONA (8) - With a masterful showing throughout the past 15 months, Pique consolidated his position as a starter with both Barcelona and the national team. Showcasing his physical presence, coolness on the ball and his ability to initiate attacks, he even gave us occasional glimpses of talent up front and looks a completely different player to that rejected by Manchester United.
CB: RAUL ALBIOL - (REAL MADRID (210) - During the past couple of decades, few centre backs have been able to arrive in Madrid and win the respect of supporters, media and the coaching team in just a matter of months. Low-profile, competitive and continuously improving, Albiol has been the key to a firmer, more disciplined Real Madrid defence this season.
LB: FILIPE LUIS - DEPORTIVO LA CORUNA (260) - Filipe spent half of the season injured, but the numbers don't lie: with him, Deportivo won 37 points in 20 matches, and were occupying a Champions League spot when he broke his ankle. During his spell on the sidelines, that same side won 10 points in 17 matches. His influence on Depor's side can't be overstated and his offensive/defensive work rate is second to none, including his fellow countryman Dani Alves.
DM: XABI ALONSO - REAL MADRID (69) - His importance for the Merengues grew as the season evolved and, as expected, Alonso ended up channelling most of Real Madrid's creative flow. His pinpoint passing and tireless work ethic make him a key asset for the side and they look a much more cohesive unit when he is at the heart of proceedings. Perhaps Spain missed more long-range shots from him than compared with his Liverpool years, but the Anfield club certainly missed him more.
DM: SERGIO BUSQUETS - BARCELONA (137) - As a defensive midfielder, this 21-year-old is as good as we have seen in a long while in La Liga. Physically imposing, technically and tactically gifted, and even street smart when dealing with referees, this season he's shown that he will be around for a long while to come for Barcelona and Spain. His dominance in the centre could even spell the end for the more experienced Yaya Toure.
CM: XAVI HERNANDEZ - BARCELONA (22) - Another immaculate year from Barcelona's influential midfielder, who is about as close to perfection as you can get when it comes to finding that seemingly impossible final pass. In an era in which there is so much talent in the midfield position at his club Barcelona, as well as in the national team, he is the only guaranteed starter in both sides and his ability to retain possession and build a platform for attacks is revered the world over.
RW: LIONEL MESSI - BARCELONA (1) - When your extremely articulate coach runs out of adjectives to describe how good you are, you're probably very good. In this case, simply the best player in the world. Messi left us with 34 La Liga goals, several rescue missions in which he played only for the final 30 minutes and won the match by himself, and the overwhelming feeling that even now, when most teams already know him well, he's just unstoppable. His summer challenge will be to replicate his impressive club form with Argentina, but his place in history is already assured.
LW: CRISTIANO RONALDO - REAL MADRID (2) - If anyone wondered about CR9's ability to adapt to Spanish football, 26 goals in 28 La Liga matches is your answer. Despite some niggling injuries during mid-season, he has finished in spectacular form, grabbing some matches by the scruff of the neck and taking the responsibility of leading the side upon himself. As in Messi's case, he will be focused on the World Cup, but when the La Liga season starts again he will be keen to prove that he is, once again, seen as the best player on the planet.
ST: GONZALO HIGUAIN - REAL MADRID (4) - At the beginning of the season, his position seemed threatened by the arrival of Karim Benzema and Ronaldo, plus the incumbent Raul Gonzalez, but Higuain won Pellegrini's trust and impressed when scoring 27 goals in 31 matches. The good news is that the 23-year-old is still maturing as a player and while this season he got more playing time and added a couple of new moves to his game, his ceiling as a striker is yet to be discovered.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON - LIONEL MESSI - BARCELONA (1)
• Coming up:
• Serie A Team of the Season (May 18)
• Champions League Team of the Season (May 21)
• The final Castrol Rankings of the European season are released on May 26.