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The 2022 Cyler Awards: La Liga

Slow, sluggish Spanish games are going to be what eventually cracks me mentally. If I haven’t already.

FC Barcelona v UD Almeria - LaLiga Santander Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

The 2022 Cylers have come to the country of Spain, where amongst the open skies over the Nou Camp, the bright lights of the Santiago Bernabeu and so many more theatres, we have seen many a great player this year.

For the uninitiated, the Cylers, short for the 2022 Cyler Awards, are the most prestigious award ceremony in the history of ever, where the only valid opinion is mine, as should be the laws of the world anyway.

Tom Starke Award: Best Goalkeeper

Villarreal CF v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final Photo by Adam Warzawa - Pool/Getty Images

The award for Spain’s best goalkeeper goes to... Villarreal’s Gerónimo Rulli!

The Argentine has been simply fantastic this year. He had a shaky start to life during the 2021/22 season, but during the second half of it (the only half that matters) he came alive with big performances in key games to push Villarreal into the semi-finals of the Champions League, including that set of performances against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, as well as a host of big performances in the league to secure European football for Villarreal. However this was just the beginning, as during the 2022/23 season he has been the best shot-stopper in Spain full stop. Rulli has come up time and time again when Villarreal needed him, most famously in a game against Atlético Madrid where he made a multitude of simply unbelievable saves back to back as if they were nothing.

I would be remiss to not mention Thibaut Courtois who was a narrow runner-up in this category, but a weak second half of the year keeps him from taking the award.

Dante Award: Best Defender

Liverpool FC v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final 2021/22 Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The award for best defender goes to... Real Madrid’s Éder Militão!

Militão led the backline with vigour while Real went on their fairytale run through the Champions League and stomped through the La Liga, a fantastic set of performances throughout those very important games. With the coming of the 22/23 season, Militão stepped up his game, branding himself upon attackers and becoming indispensable to Real’s defense despite David Alaba and Antonio Rüdiger challenging for the centre-back spots.

Militão’s range of strength, speed, ability on the ball and unforgiving mentality has seen him chase attackers off the trail all year round.

Xabi Alonso Award: Best Midfielder

Real Sociedad v RCD Mallorca - LaLiga Santander Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The award for best midfielder goes to... Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino!

Mikel Merino has been something else, truly. Operating in midfield but drifting usually into the left half-space, Merino ran games for Sociedad. Merino operates as an 8 who picks up the ball from the defense and progresses it to the Sociedad attacking unit. However he is not afraid to make a late run himself, often finishing a chance or, more often, receiving the ball in a cut-back and attempting the killer ball to bag himself an assist.

Merino had a good end to the 21/22 season (a marked dip from the latter half of 2021 but a world class showing nonetheless), but it has been his form as of late that has earned him this award. Merino has a goal and 6 assists to his name this season, showing his remarkable ability to involve himself with the attack whilst not sacrificing his defensive duties.

Franck Ribéry Award: Best Attacker

Real Madrid v Celtic FC: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

The award for best attacker goes to... Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior!

‘Vini’ has been fantastic for Real, locking down the left flank game after game. Whether it’s providing width for Karim Benzema to flourish during the 2022 Champions League knockouts, or drifting narrower to link up with Rodrygo and Federico Valverde during the 22/23 La Liga, Vini has not missed a step, causing havoc for defenses with his pace, vision, dangerous finish and of course, all the Brazilian sauce. Vini has 6 goals and 3 assists already to his name in the league this season, which is somehow a drop down from his half-season average of last season, which ended with him on 17 goals and 10 assists in the league.

Honourable mentions must go to Vini’s teammates Federico Valverde and Rodrygo who have all been elite this season but their performances during the first half of the year were not up to the mark, as well as FC Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé who was otherworldly during the first half of the year but a little shaky this season, and his teammate Robert Lewandowski who has been the best attacker in Spain in my opinion this season, but of course was at Bayern Munich during the 21/22 season.

Cyler d’Or: Spain’s Player of the Year

FRANCE-PARIS-FOOTBALL-BALLON D’OR CEREMONY Photo by Gao Jing/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Spanish Cyler d’or goes to... 2022 Ballon d’Or winner, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.

Of course it is. It had to be him.

Benzema has struggled with injury during the 22/23 season so far, but every time he’s stepped on the pitch he has been Real’s best player, averaging a goal contribution every game in the league. However, we all know this isn’t about what’s happened in the last few months. It’s about that 21/22 season. The three best strikers of the 2010s now all have a premier season to boast about. Luis Suárez has his ridiculous 2015/16 season, Robert Lewandowski was the best in the world during the 2019/20 season, and now Benzema has his very own season to claim. An unbelievable 27 goals and 12 assists in the league by the end of the season, paired with an even more unbelievable Champions League season.

Real made a habit of having their backs against the wall in the Champions League knockouts, and Benzema made a habit of bailing them out. If football were a heist film Benzema would be the protagonist, it felt almost like fate that Los Blancos would dig themselves out no matter what, and it was almost always Benzema orchestrating the comeback. The quick brace at the Bernabeu against Paris Saint-Germain, the winner against Chelsea, and the penalty against Manchester City to cap it all off. Not even Harry Houdini was as good an escape artist.

What do you think of my picks? Is there anyone I missed? No I will not back-track on snubbing Luka Modrić for best midfielder, stop flooding my inbox, but please do feel free to give other names in the discussion below.

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