For a long time now, La Liga has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, leading many to dismiss it as a boring, two-team league. Atletico Madrid are now starting to match them, but the gulf between these three teams and the other 17 is not getting any smaller. With these three teams dominating not only Spain but Europe as well, it has meant that a lot of talented players from La Liga are going unappreciated when they deserve to be recognised as the quality players they are. So, here is my La Liga XI, not including any players from Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid.
Goalkeeper: Willy Caballero – Malaga
Willy Cabellero was one of Malaga’s stand out players in their run the the Champions League quarter-finals, pulling off heroic saves in the games against Dortmund. He has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester City, where he would be reunited with former manager Manuel Pellegrini, and Malaga are said to want £12million for him, a serious amount of money for a 32-year old, which shows how highly he is valued by the Andalucian club.
Right-back: Hugo Mallo – Celta Vigo
22-year old Mallo broke into Celta’s first team in 2011 and has been one of their more impressive players in a difficult period for the club. He missed seven months of the last campaign with injury, but is now back in the team and linked with a move to Everton or Manchester United. He has also played in Spain’s under-21 side, and he has been touted as the replacement for Alvaro Arbeloa.
Centre-back: Inigo Martinez – Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad surprised everyone last season with their 4th placed finish in La Liga, and defensive rock Inigo Martinez was one of their stand-out players. Still only 22 years old, Barcelona want him as a replacement for Carlos Puyol, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are also interested, and he has been named in Spain’s senior squad. It would take a very large transfer fee to convince Sociedad to sell, but should they fail to retain their place in the Champions League it may be necessary.
Centre-back: Mateo Musacchio – Villarreal
Villarreal have taken to life back in La Liga as if they never left, picking up their impressive performances from before they were relegated. 23-year old Argentine centre back Musacchio has been a big reason for their success, which has inevitable led to him being linked with Real Madrid and Chelsea. There is some confusion over the player’s contract – some say it expires at the end of the season, but the Villarreal president says he is contracted until 2018, and that interested clubs will have to pay 50million Euros to sign him.
Left-back: Juan Bernat – Valencia
Juan Bernat has filled the role left by Jordi Alba brilliantly, and is one of Spain’s most promising young players. He is very similar in style to Alba, at home playing left back or left midfield, and the academy product is a firm fan favourite. With Valencia struggling in the league, it remains to be seen how long they can hold on to their talented youth product.
Centre-midfield: Benat – Athletic Bilbao
Benat was the best player at Real Betis last season, as they managed to qualify for the Europa League. That they now sit rock bottom after selling him shows how important he was, and it was something of a surprise that he signed for Athletic Bilbao, a club who finished 5 places below Betis. He has also gained 4 caps for Spain, no easy feat when you consider the midfield talent they have available.
Centre-midfield: Ruben Pardo – Real Sociedad
Only 21 years old, Ruben Pardo has admirably filled the hole left in Sociedad’s midfield by the £30million departure of Asier Illarramendi. With an impressive 2 goals and 5 assists in 11 starts in the league this season, he is one of the clubs most prized assets and has been called the next Xabi Alonso. It won’t be long before he is starting every game for them.
Right-wing: Carlos Vela
No stranger to Premier League fans, having spent 6 seasons as an Arsenal player, albeit most of them out on loan, Vela has looked like the player we all thought he could be since moving to Sociedad. He has made himself at home on the right wing, a departure from his normal position up front, but it has paid dividends with 34 goals in 86 league games for them. It is rumoured that Arsenal have an option to buy him back for just £3.5million, and with them crying out for another striker, they could do a lot worse than turning to a former player – although whether he would want to return to a club where he wasn’t given much of a chance is another matter.
Attacking Midfield: Ivan Rakitic – Sevilla
According to whoscored.com, Ivan Rakitic has statistically been the 9th best player in the whole of Europe so far this season, with an impressive 8 goals and 6 assists in 17 league games. The Croatian is now the club captain, and is a very versatile player who has played also in defensive midfield and on the wing.
Left-wing: Antoine Griezmann – Real Sociedad
Yet another Sociedad player, and probably the best known player on this team, young Frenchman Griezmann has been impressing in Spain for a while before he caught the world’s attention with a spectacular overhead kick goal against Lyon in this season Champions League qualifiers. This season has been his best yet, with an excellent record of 12 goals in 17 games in the league, and it seems his days at Sociedad may be limited, as Manchester United and PSG are waiting in the wings. He needs to work on his crossing however, and only has 2 assists to his name this season, but if he can then he will be a big player for France and a major club in the years to come.
Striker: Giovani dos Santos – Villarreal
Another player who wasn’t given the chance to show what he can do for a Premier League club, Dos Santos has reinvented himself as a striker at Villarreal and repaid his transfer fee with 8 goals and 5 assists in his 16 league appearances. He put in a remarkable showing on the day I am writing this, contributing 2 goals and 2 assists in a 5-1 crushing of Real Sociedad, becoming the first player in the history of Villarreal to contribute to 4 goals in one game. His talent was never in question as he would always impress for Mexico, but it has taken Giovani a while to find his home at club level, and found it he now has at El Submarino Amarillo.