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Cyler’s Season Awards: La Liga — Part 3

The Spanish title race was wrapped up very early but the competition for Europe was exciting throughout the season. Who was key to each team?

Real Madrid CF Celebrates Winning The UEFA Champions League Final 2021/22 Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images

We end our foray through Spain now with the top 6 clubs, specifically those that have qualified for the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League. Have fun actually recognising the names this time, yeah?

If you haven’t checked out our 2. Bundesliga awards, I would highly recommend familiarising yourself with them as some of the names mentioned could come up as top performers in the top flight of Germany this season. The bottom half of the table can be found here while the top half of the table can be found here. I’ve also covered France’s top flight of football — the Ligue 1 — which you can find here, here and here.

If you haven’t read the first two parts of the La Liga review which covered the rest of the teams in the league, you can find them here and here.

6th - Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Robin Le Normand (CB)
Le Normand is one of the most exciting centre backs in Europe right now. Strong in the air and great with the ball at his feet, Le Normand is also quicker than meets the eye, both in a sprint and during set pieces. He’s already showing the ability to lead a backline at the age of 25, a quality you just cannot teach.

Fußballgott: Martín Zubimendi (CDM/CM)
Zubimendi was the rock and gravel that laid the foundation for what should have been a much smoother attack. His enforcing of the midfield with consistent screening, great reading of the game and tireless tracking allowed his midfield partner to push forward and have more creative freedom.

Der Bomber: Mikel Oyarzabal (LM)
Sociedad’s attack was painfully poor at times, and while Oyarzabal only played 22 games, his tally of 9 goals and 3 assists is bested by no one else. Despite having been linked to many a ‘bigger club’, Oyarzabal seems content to stay at his boyhood club. Characteristically quick to get to loose balls, crossing excellently on that left peg but still having an eye for a shot when cutting in.

Meister of the Season: Mikel Merino (CM/CDM)
Zubimendi’s partner in crime, Merino is a player I think is criminally underrated still. Merino was tireless in his pressing, always running after his opponents in midfield doggedly, and with the ball at his feet he himself was not afraid to put his body on the line and draw fouls. His ability to pre-empt where his teammates will be based on rehearsed movements and play them through is uncanny. It’s not even the standard definition for ‘vision’, it’s more like fortune-telling. 4 goals and 2 assists in all competitions is not a justification at all for his quality.

5th - Real Betis

Real Betis Sevilla v Valencia - Spanish Copa del Rey Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Marc Bartra (CB)
Betis’ centre-backs never really had a set partnership due to heavy rotation, but Bartra was the one who left the most impact in the end. Nothing too special, but solid in the air, relatively clean in the tackle and good at reading the game. His ball progression was diminished compared to previous seasons, but not by any significant margin.

Fußballgott: Guido Rodríguez (CDM)
Guido was the 6 in Betis’ 4-2-3-1, and was extremely important to Betis’ play as his defensive solidity gave license to his midfield partners to push forward. Guido displayed his astuteness in defense time and time again with intercepting and tackling indicative of that of an elite defensive midfielder.

Der Bomber: Sergio Cañales (RM/LM)
Cañales has only gotten better since switching Real Sociedad for Real Betis, and this season was no different. His eye for pass and goal have been impeccable, but especially his vision for teammates both from crosses and from diagonal balls. 8 goals and 10 assists round out his figures for the season.

Meister of the Season: Nabil Fekir (CAM)
Nabil Fekir has regained his status as a world class attacking midfielder this season after what has been an unbelievable campaign for him. 10 goals and 10 assists is impressive already but it underpins his true quality. Fekir’s ability to take shots from distance, find his striker Borja Iglesias with balls over the top, take free kicks, dribble through multiple men, draw fouls with his hold-up play and lay off others have combined to create a range of ways Fekir can punish defenses. Off the ball, his dogged pressing have often smothered defensive midfielders and forced them backwards or sideways throughout a 90.

4th - Sevilla FC

Sevilla Fc V Athletic Club - Liga Santander Photo By Joaquin Corchero/Europa Press via Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Yassine Bounou (GK)
Sevilla had the best defense in the league with 30 goals conceded, and while the defenders themselves were consistently classy, Bounou still stood out as a fantastic keeper. His shot-stopping was excellent, winning them games single-handedly at times.

Fußballgott: Ivan Rakitić (CM)
Rakitić is still a class midfielder at 34 years of age. His playmaking is top class, with balls over the top, long passing and general vision being consistent to what he was back in his prime. If all else fails, Rakitić can take free kicks and shoot from distance himself. 5 goals and 6 assists to round out the season.

Der Bomber: Lucas Ocampos (RW/LW)
Sevilla’s attack wasn’t the strongest at times but it was a consistent unit, and Ocampos was the cream of the crop. Ocampos’ tracking back was strong, but his link-up play was the best. His crossing wasn’t top notch but his ability to roam into more central spaces and become a goal threat or play his teammates through became key to Sevilla’s play in the final third, netting him 7 goals and 4 assists.

Meister of the Season: Jules Koundé (CB)
Koundé is wanted by Europe’s elite for a reason. Turning 24 this season, he already has all the hallmarks of a world class leader and centre back. His tackling technique is impeccable and clean. His ability to progress the ball is world class. He’s strong in the air and as strong at reading the game. His positioning and ability to zone players out of dangerous areas is elite. He’s fast off the line and can catch up to counter-attacks. He can even beat men on the dribble in a pinch.

3rd - Atlético Madrid

Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Stefan Savić (CB)
As Jan Oblak was performing almost shockingly poorly, the onus was on the defense to be more solid than ever, and while no one would step up properly, Savić was the best of the bunch. Strong in the air and great at zoning players out of the last line of defense, he was also risk-free in build-up, playing shorter passes.

Fußballgott: Rodrigo de Paul (CM)
It wasn’t his best or most glamorous season, but Rodrigo de Paul was still an elite midfielder. Forced to drop slightly further back than he used to due to the lack of a proper defensive midfielder at times, de Paul adapted to his role perfectly and would run in from deep to become a late goal threat. 4 goals and an assist aren’t the most impressive figures but they are respectable.

Der Bomber: Ángel Correa (ST/RM)
Honourable mention to João Félix who played very well but had limited game time. Correa scored 12 and assisted 5, with these goals coming from a variety of positions. Correa’s ability to get into dangerous close positions and finish first time as well as shoot from distance marked him as a goal threat, but his dribbling and passing in the final third were top shelf too.

Meister of the Season: Yannick Carrasco (LWB/LM)
Carrasco has quietly been one of the best players in La Liga for the last couple of seasons. He was out of this world at left wing back when Simeone employed a back three, and remained elite after the switch back to 4-4-2. Carrasco’s defensive contribution was great but going forward he was even better. Carrasco’s crossing and general forward passing was excellent, but his dribbling was ever more impressive as he would regularly beat men out wide. 6 goals and 6 assists mark his season.

2nd - FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Ronald Araújo (CB)
Look, Araújo is nothing close to world class and does not come in the conversation for the best centre backs in the world like every Barcelona fan would have you believe. But he is still a solid centre back. His ability in the air, his short passing ability, his fearlessness and his general tackling technique are all great. His ability to play at full back on either side makes him a great squad option too.

Fußballgott: Sergio Busquets (CDM)
Honourable mention to Pedri who was brilliant when he played but only racked up about 900 minutes in the league and not many more in Europe. Busquets remains an elite defensive midfielder even when he has come so far past his prime, a true pillar of football for the last decade or so.

Der Bomber: Memphis Depay (ST/LW)
Depay dropped off towards the second half of the season but he was excellent during the first half, with his ability to shoot from distance, run in behind defenses, hold up play and drop as the false 9, and link up in the opponent’s box made him a consistent threat. 13 goals and 2 assists round out his figure for the season.

Meister of the Season: Ousmane Dembélé (RW)
Dembélé had his problems before Xavi’s arrival at Barcelona but since his arrival, Dembélé has been simply world class. His ability to beat multiple men and put a ball into the middle has blossomed and turned him into a winger any full back would think twice about pressing. His final ball has been very good, and for the first time in his Barcelona career he has had end product to show for it, a goal to go with his THIRTEEN assists in the league, and bare in mind this came in just 15 starts and 6 substitute appearances.

1st - Real Madrid

Real Madrid Celebrates The Uefa Champions League In Madrid Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images

Der Kaiser: Thibaut Courtois (GK)
Honourable mention to David Alaba and Éder Militão who were world class a centre back pairing. Courtois is the best goalkeeper in the world right now, with great performances throughout the season both in the league and in Europe. He was key especially to their run in the Champions League, with his saves denying Lionel Messi penalties, Mohamed Salah backheels, and other shots that would most certainly have been fatal to their attempt at winning the tournament.

Fußballgott: Casemiro (CDM)
While Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić soaked in praise for their longevity (especially the latter), Casemiro quietly had another elite season while now on the older side of 30. Strong in the air and even stronger when getting low to read the game or tackle his opponents, it was Casemiro’s screening ability that set the base for his midfield partners to excel in their more free roles.

Der Bomber: Vinícius Júnior (LW)
Vinícius was simply brilliant this season, in my opinion the most in-form and electric left winger in the world for the last year. His passing in the final third and dribbling especially were amongst the very best in the world. 22 goals and 16 assists round out his figures for the seasons.

Meister of the Season: Karim Benzema (ST)
I hate to say it, but it is true. Karim Benzema was the best player in the world this season and is fully deserving of France Football’s Ballon d’Or award. Great hold-up play, great passing to wider areas, amazing striker’s instinct and finishing, the ability to get onto crosses with headers and sneak behind defenders into dangerous positions all contributed to what has been a legendary campaign for the French striker. 44 goals and 14 assists are Ballon d’Or-worthy figures, similar to those of Robert Lewandowski across the 2019/20 season.

Are there any names I’ve omitted you would have included? Is Karim Benzema the best player in the world? Let us know in the discussion forum below.

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