In the second part of my La Liga Team of the Season 2011/2012 I look at the midfield and attack. This was probably the most difficult area to select from as there have been so many individuals excellent for their team. Hopefully I can acknowledge others’ contribution enough in the honourable mentions section.
If you missed the first part, never fear…click here!
CM – Raúl García
This season the 25 year-old went back home, and to surroundings where he felt his career could be diverted back onto the right track. The idea behind the Osasuna move was to get more minutes, and to rediscover the form which made Atlético Madrid part with €13m for his services. It goes without saying the loan move has been a resounding success. José Luis Mendilibar’s arrival at the club saw Raúl García given more freedom, and license to roam out of the midfield pivot into attacking scenarios. He revelled in the role, and has been a consistent performer in Pamplona racking up 11 goals and 8 assists in his 2656 minutes on the field.
CM – Óscar De Marcos
The revelation of the season. Under Joaquín Caparrós he was a scrawny, bit part winger send on for the final 5 minutes of games. Under Marcelo Bielsa, he’s become a colossal figure in Athletic’s system, breaking from central midfield to devastating effect, complementing the tandem control of Ander Iturraspe and Ander Herrera. His movement has been both inventive and incisive on and off the ball, confident in creating space for his more technically gifted teammates to express themselves in. When a long ball was pinged towards Fernando Llorente, it was De Marcos who would seize upon the scraps and create chaos in opponents’ area. As the season grew, he became more confident in possession and was able to weight perfect passes into the channels. At the start of the season Bielsa told the versatile De Marcos to run, and he still hasn’t stopped.
CM – Michu
If De Marcos is the revelation, then Miguel Pérez Cuesta – Michu to his friends – has been the surprise package. Upon leaving Celta Vigo he was offered around La Liga by his agent, with little interest. Rayo Vallecano were the team decided to give the big man a chance, and haven’t regretted it. His breaks from midfield have been marvellous, and his presence in the penalty area with both his intelligent movement and physical presence have asked questions of the best defenders in Spain and averaged 4.1 aerial battles won per game. He motors around well in midfield too, maintain the tempo Rayo have in their aggressive attacking style. He’s notched an incredible 15 goals, the most of any midfielder in Spain, and finished the 4th top Spanish scorer.
LW – Isco
Valencia made the error of never truly getting the ‘Isco Show’ underway, and that’s where Málaga stepped in. Bought for €7m, he might prove to be the finest purchase the Andalucían club make in this new era guided by a Qatari Sheikh. The attacking midfielder has an abundance of talent and a vast array of skills. His change of direction and ability to twist his body to evade challenges has been glorious to watch, and he compliments it well with carefully threaded passes and fine vision. He’s emerged so quickly this season he’s even put Santi Cazorla in the shade, which is no easy task. He has marked 5 goals, and 4 assists while averaging 1.3 key passes per game as he looks to open up opponents in the final third. A recent full Spain call-up was fully deserved.
RW – Jesús Navas
Some people have questioned whether Jesús Navas would ever fulfil his potential as a player. Rated highly as a youngster, he was a direct winger with blistering pace under Juande Ramos that caught the eye. Now, although keeping those aspects of the game, he’s added serenity to his game in which he can take time to visualise the game in front of him and dictate from wide areas. Despite an insipid season for Sevilla, he’s been one of the few standout performers at both a high level and consistently. He often drifts inside more too, and across to the left flank – a maturing from the days where he was a kick and push winger. He’s managed 12 assists and averages 2.5 key passes per game, both figures more than any other Spaniard, and is also responsible for the most successful crosses in La Liga.
CF – Radamel Falcao
24 goals in 33 games. It should be enough to describe Falcao’s season, but the Colombian has so much more to him than that. Falcao’s been an essential cog in the Diego Simeone system at Atlético Madrid, showing his individual ability but also working in a cohesive manner with his teammates. Be it the industrious Adrián, or the creative hub of Arda Turan and Diego. As a striker he has it all; the ability to use his feet, prowess in the air and the intelligence to drop off the forward line and help with attacking transitions. ‘El Tigre’ shows genuine presence and power in the penalty area, but can mix it equally with elegance and skill. The finishes in the Europa League final provided enough evidence of this for the wider audience to see.
Honourable mentions: Midfield – José Barkero, Vicente Iborra, Beñat, Santi Cazorla, Álvaro Cejudo, Apoño, Gonzalo Castro, Ander Herrera, Alberto Lora, Joan Verdú, Sofiane Feghouli. Attack – Rubén Castro, Jonas, Carlos Vela, Fernando Llorente, Arouna Koné, Adrián, Víctor.
Coach: Juan Ignacio Martínez
It was the most simple choice to make, selecting JIM. It also happened to be the most sensible and deserving. In a league that has been swallowed by money JIM and Levante have risen above all the usual factors to great success. In his Levante team there are no stars nor individuals, the moment they take their field the unit is unified as one with a sole goal of achieving the desired result. JIM plays the percentages and doesn’t given an inch to the opposition. In mid-season he tried to alter his system to be more expansive and in turn that backfired. The old system returned, and battered nearly everything that got in its way since. There is steel and focus in defence, hard work and discipline in midfield and a direct nature about the attack. Levante sit, they soak up, then they punch. When they do, it has been extremely hard. JIM’s system is almost too simple, yet few who try it can execute it to such perfection. JIM is coach of the season, Levante are team of the season.
Honourable mentions: José Luis Mendilibar; An outstanding campaign with Osasuna and operating similarly to JIM and Levante in that they had a particular style and worked relentlessly on it. Individuals have stood out, certainly, but it has been a team effort. The fact they lost their two best players in Nacho Monreal and Javier Camuñas, to then produce this campaign is nothing short of incredible. Manolo Jiménez; Real Zaragoza bought games and won by cheating the financial system? No, they didn’t. Zaragoza stayed up because they were drilled and motivated by Jiménez when everything was lost. One of the most difficult tasks a coach can face is motivating a team at rock bottom, and they were. 12 points from safety in March, yet they battled hard in the final stretch to preserve their status. Sporting and Villarreal went down on that final day because they didn’t have fight and belief. Most importantly they didn’t have Jiménez on their bench.