La Liga 2013-14 – End of Season Summary and Awards

Posted: May 28, 2014 in La Liga
Campeones!

Campeones!

Another season of exciting, unpredictable and generally pulsating Spanish football. My personal La Liga awards from last season went down well, so I thought I would give it another go.

Last season, we had Barcelona getting to 100 points and winning the title. This season, the Catalan club ended their campaign trophy-less. Simeone and his soldiers led the line for a while, and never really looked like relinquishing it. Eventually, one final invasion of the Camp Nou ensured that Atletico Madrid sealed the league title, breaking the league’s duopoly for the first time since Rafa Benitez’s Valencia in 2004. Real Madrid enjoyed domestic success, honing in the Copa del Rey and also conquered Europe as the long-awaited obsession with ‘La Decima’ finally came to an end. At the other end of the table, Real Betis, Osasuna and Real Valladolid bowed out of the prestigious Primera. Real Betis – without Ruben Castro for a long period of the season – struggled to get any positive results. Pepe Mel eventually got sacked, the club only picking up 6 wins all season. Betis go down, but will leave behind some exciting players willing to jump ship – Ruben Castro, Verdu, Cedrick (although a season in the Segunda would do him a world of good), Adan. Valladolid’s major downfall was their knack of drawing games as 17 of the club’s 36 league points came via draws. Their football was unattractive as one really began to wonder if there was any point of them being in the Primera. JIM’s Valladolid finally got relegated, dragging Osasuna down with them. Osasuna are renowned for their outstanding home form and yo-yo league standings – one season they’re in the top eight, the other they’re looking like they may go down. 13-14 was the season the side from Pamplona finally dropped down. Despite Oriol Riera being in good goal scoring form, Osasuna continued to struggle defending in wide-areas – their full-backs cost them dearly, as did their sometimes high defensive line. This flaw of theirs was their biggest downfall and a major reason as to why the club struggled to find positive results away from home – there was hardly any adaptation to opposition tactics.

Athletic Bilbao sealed a Champions League spot, playing some superb, direct football under the ever-excellent Ernesto Valverde. The side’s home form at the Nou San Mames seemed to play a big part in the revitalisation of the players’ mentality which had been scarred from the final season under Marcelo Bielsa. Sevilla, having won the Europa League, finished seven points behind Athletic Bilbao, missing out on a Champions League place. Emery’s men struggled to kill teams off – one of the reason why they dropped a fair few amount of points – but one thing the often maligned manager did was sort out the club’s horrendous away form. Villarreal bounced from the Segunda all the way up to 6th place, earning a European spot. They were running away with the Champions League spot at one point, until they sort of faded away in 2014. Bruno was spectacular in midfield, but his shine rubbed off. Despite losing their foothold of 4th in 2014, they still finished in an unexpected 6th place ahead of Valencia and Real Sociedad.

A special mention has to go to Paco Jemez – my manager of the season last season – and his Rayo Vallecano side. At one point they were in the relegation zone, almost down and out. But Jemez never gave up on his side, and even came up with his own slogan “to play football, you must first have a pair of balls”. That quote sums up Jemez – hardworking, passionate and undoubtedly outspoken. Jemez’s side went on an excellent ten-game unbeaten streak (if you don’t count the 5-0 loss to Real Madrid which, in fact, they played quite well in). Jemez maintained that his side should always attack, ignoring defensive frailties. If you can’t fix the problem directly, try to find a way around it. That’s Jemez’s philosophy, and it is always excellent to see this philosophy applied on the pitch and spread to the 11 players representing Rayo Vallecano.

Levante, favourites to go down at the start of the season, hired Joaquin Caparros – a man renowned for his hard-working attitude and ability to unite groups of players. Levante started the season with quite an open midfield, which led to them getting cut open far too easily by most sides executing 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formations. Caparros’ idea was to switch to a 5-man defence, with captain Juanfran leading the line. Juanfran, despite being 38-years of age, was one of Levante’s best players and most consistent performers. His ability to defend outside and inside the box, going wide if areas needed to be covered, showed that age is nothing but a number in football if you are physically fit. Keylor Navas was Levante’s greatest performer, and arguably the best goalkeeper in the league behind Courtois. Navas accumulated the highest amount of saves in the league, and is now gaining interested from big clubs all over Europe. Regardless, Levante went from relegation favourites to finishing 10th, only one point off 8th.

That summarises the season and the somewhat overachievers. Congratulations to Elche, Almeria and Villarreal for remaining in the league after promotion. Valencia were largely disappointing until Pizzi came along, Granada were underwhelming due to the lack of a goal scorer and consistent forward. Malaga performed excellently under Schuster from January onwards with the signing of Amrabat. Now, enough of the clubs. Let’s get to the meat and bone of this article, the only reason why you are reading: The La Liga End of Season Awards.

Player of the Season

One of the most under-appreciated footballers in Europe

One of the most under-appreciated footballers in Europe

Gabi is my Player of the Season, and it was a difficult choice. There was an array of players I could have chosen such as Modric, Rakitic, Courtois, Di Maria. The list is endless, which speaks volumes of how high performance levels were in the season past. Gabi has to be one of the most under-appreciated footballers in Europe. He sits in the centre, allowing his partner to roam a little further forward as he casts a net over his area and protects it. Gabi dictates the tempo of games excellently, but he can also operate as a box-to-box midfielder. His levels of energy are high and that, paired with his love for the club, means he will run for 90+ minutes and still perform at a consistently high level. Gabi’s defensive work is flawless as he excels in tackling and intercepting the ball, yet he isn’t a “destroyer”. Gabi can pass the ball as majestically as many. Why is he under-appreciated? Well, age is a big factor in the perception of many so 30-year-old Gabi may not have ‘time’ on his side for people to appreciate him. He isn’t a goal scorer, but he picks up a decent amount of assists – nothing mind blowing which you’ll see on stat sheets. To appreciate Gabi, you have to watch him play rather than interpret his performance levels in correlation with his stats. Gabi is an excellent footballer, and superlatives genuinely do run out when you have watched him game after game. Gabi is my Player of the Season, and watching him lift the La Liga title was a joy to behold for many-a-neutral.

 

Young Player of the Season

Arguably the best centre-back of his age pool in Europe

Arguably the best centre-back of his age pool in Europe

Aymeric Laporte has had a sensational season, reeling in interest from Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Not only is the 20-year-old an excellent defender, he can also distribute the ball accurately. This is an important trait in modern day football as most big clubs favour a defender who acts as a spare midfielder in possession and can connect the defence to the midfield, allowing a side to retain and hold onto possession. In this regard, he is most comparable to Gerard Pique. Athletic can defend a few yards higher up the pitch because of Laporte’s excellent passing range as well as his reading of the game. Despite the experienced leaders around him, Laporte seems to thrive off being the player who controls the defence. His judgement of high balls was once a criticism of his game, yet Laporte has ironed that out over the course of the season. Quite frankly, it is scary that a player of his age has no genuine flaws to his game. He could play at the highest level possible, but Athletic will not allow him to jump ship unless a club matches his £30m release clause. Choosing Laporte meant that I did leave out Koke, Carvajal, Pardo, Rafinha – not an easy decision – but it’s a decision which I back 100%. Laporte is the next best defender and there is no doubt in my mind about it.

Manager of the Season

No eyebrows raised at this one. Simeone was arguably the best manager in Europe this season.

No eyebrows raised at this one. Simeone was arguably the best manager in Europe this season.

To break La Liga’s duopoly is incredible enough, but to do it on a shoe-string budget? Sensational. Who needs money when squad and club unity can bring you trophies? Atletico Madrid had an incredible campaign – not without its slip-ups – and eventually clinched the title with a draw on the final day against Barcelona. One thing admirable about Simeone is his ability to bring the best out of seemingly average footballers. Nobody thought much of Raul Garcia up until this season when Simeone, somehow, was able to squeeze every ounce of quality out of the Basque midfielder. Whether he was playing up-front, wide or just behind Costa, Raul Garcia always found a way to score crucial goals. Simeone’s countless practicing of set-pieces paid dividends as Atleti, in my eyes, became the best club from set-pieces in Europe. The direct, yet narrow football always seemed to be lacking a traditional winger to allow Simeone a spare part as a plan B but that perception was thrown to the side as Atletico’s narrow football led them to a La Liga title, a Copa del Rey semi-final and Champions League final. What Simeone has done with Atletico Madrid will never be forgotten in Spanish football history, let alone the club’s. How much further can he take them? There seems to be no genuine ceiling, especially with the plethora of talented youth coming through.

Goal of the Season

Pedro Leon’s goal was out of this world good. We have seen dodgy free-kicks loop over the goalkeeper, but that strike from the half-way line was the best goal all season. This was my toughest choice as I had to choose between Gabi vs Real Madrid, Costa’s bicycle kick, Aduriz’s thumping long-ranger, Iago Falque’s solo goal, Ronaldo’s back-heel, Bacca’s finish against Real Madrid and a load more. Words fail to describe this goal, so click on the video and watch it.

Signing of the Season

The Moroccan single-handedly changed Malaga's fortune.

The Moroccan single-handedly changed Malaga’s fortunes.

Amrabat joined Malaga in January, so some may struggle to agree with this. Before signing him, Malaga looked destined to drop out of La Liga as their side lacked a goal scorer and someone who created. They needed a spark from somewhere as they struggled to cope through their transitional period. It’s hard to justify 5 months of football as worthy of a Signing of the Season award, but Amrabat single-handedly changed Malaga’s fortunes. He added that much needed spark to the side, lifting everyone at the club – from the fans to the players – up. He is the sole reason as to why they beat the drop – along with Schuster’s uniting of the squad. Amrabat picked up two goals and five assists, bringing the best out of Malaga’s array of target-man type forwards with his magnificent crossing. Amrabat created key chance after key chance from wide-areas. It makes one think that, if they had signed Amrabat in the summer, where would they have ended up in the league? He brought excitement back to La Rosaleda which had been void since Isco’s departure. Mikel Rico and Bale both crossed my mind, but neither impacted their side as hugely, and to as much importance, as Amrabat did Malaga.

 

So what can we expect from La Liga next season? Well, the same as ever: exciting football, financial turmoil, final day battles for survival, European football and hopefully the league. Will Atleti be able to defend their title? Who will be the surprise package? What new signings will be made? Who will come up from the Segunda? The only answer to any of these questions is Eibar- they will come up from the Segunda… Providing they pay circa £1m before the 5th August, otherwise they face relegation to the 3rd tier of Spanish football. Ah, Spanish football. As exciting and dramatic as ever.

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