All of Europe’s major leagues have drawn to a close, and it is that time when we look back and reflect on the star performers over the last 9 months. There have been many players bursting onto the scene this season, many upcoming young players enhancing their reputations, and many established stars continuing to do what they do best. Here are my picks for the best players across the five major leagues.
GK: Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid
The Belgian keeper, still only 22 years old, has progressed more than anyone could have imagined in his three years on loan in Madrid from Chelsea. This season has been simply incredible for Madrid’s second club, as they won their first La Liga title since 1996, and were within a few minutes of winning a first ever Champions League. Diego Costa grabbed the headlines for them, but equally as important was their outstanding defence and goalkeeper. As Courtois won’t be able to return to Atletico next season due to the rule forbidding players from spending more than three years on loan at the same club during one contract, he is at something of a crossroads in his career. He has stated that he has no emotional attachment to parent club Chelsea, and as one of the world’s best keepers he would not be prepared to be the understudy to Petr Cech. He had been linked with Barcelona, but their capture of fellow young keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen seems to have scuppered any chance of him moving there. There is always the chance Atletico could sign him permanently, but would Chelsea be prepared to let him leave? The most likely outcome is that he will return to Chelsea and become their number one, and Petr Cech will move on.
RB: Serge Aurier, Toulouse
He might not be the most famous name, but the versatile Ivorian Aurier has had as good a season as anyone. The attacking right back has contributed 6 goals and 6 assists in the league for Toulouse, which is a record any full back would be proud of. He has also played at centre back and right midfield. Aurier is only 21 still, and is set to play at the World Cup for the Ivory Coast, which will see his stock rise even more if he puts in a good showing. Toulouse only finished 9th in Ligue 1, so it is unlikely they will be able to hold on to him over the summer. He has been strongly linked with Arsenal as a replacement for the departing Bacary Sagna, and if they were to be able to sign him, it would be a very smart piece of business.
CB: Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid
Another crucial member of Atletico Madrid’s squad is the Uruguayan defender Diego Godin, who has been described as their John Terry due to his willingness to throw himself in front of anything. He has a perfect partnership with Miranda, and there is very little between the two of them. The team conceded only 26 goals in their 38 league games thanks mainly to this pair and the keeper behind them. They put in the defensive performance of their lives in the Champions League final, keeping Real at bay for 92 minutes, and it was so close to being enough to win them the trophy.
CB: Mehdi Benatia, Roma
In the first 10 rounds of Serie A, Roma won every single game, and somehow conceded just a single goal in those 10 games. A big reason for that is Moroccan defender Benatia, a summer arrival from Udinese for around £10million. He is arguably now worth around three times that. Last season Roma were excellent going forward but hopeless at the back, and after bringing in Benatia to solve that problem, they were able to return to the Champions League, and for much of the season, they were pushing Juventus all the way for the title. Sadly for Roma, Benatia seems set on a move away to Barcelona. If he were to make that move, it would be exactly the signing Barcelona need to make to return to challenging for the Champions League.
LB: Ricardo Rodriguez, Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg had their best season in a long time, and a big part of that was the 21-year old full back Rodriguez. Rodriguez has excellent stats for a full back, scoring 5 goals and making 9 assists in the Bundesliga, and he is considered one of the best crossers of a ball in the game. Next season, with Wolfsburg in the Europa League, he will get to show what he can do on the European stage, and more people will stand up and take notice of him.
DM: Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich
The captain of last season’s treble winners has always been one of the most consistent players in the world. That was no different this season, and he took to playing in a new position as if he was born to it. Traditionally a full back, he played mainly as a defensive midfielder this season, and did it so well he kept Javi Martinez, one of the world’s best defensive midfielders, out of the team. Pep Guardiola has called him the most intelligent player he has ever coached – high praise from a man who has coached geniuses such as Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Sergio Busquets was credited as one of the most important players for Barcelona under Guardiola, and Lahm has all the attributes to play the same role for him at Bayern.
CM: Yaya Toure, Manchester City
In 2010, Manchester City spent £28million on a defensive midfielder called Yaya Toure. This year, that same Yaya Toure finished as the top scorer in a squad containing Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo. He has been transformed from a decent defensive midfielder into a colossal attacking powerhouse. The goal he scored in the penultimate game of City’s title-winning season, summed up his season, when he picked the ball up deep in his own half, and just run all the way down the pitch, shrugging off challenge after challenge, and expertly finishing it off. He has also become something of a free kick specialist this season, and to have finished with 20 goals in the league is simply remarkable for a midfielder. The best business City could do this summer is convince him to stay, because he is simply irreplaceable.
CM: Angel Di Maria, Real Madrid
The arrival of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid seemed to signal the end of Di Maria’s time at the club. 9 months on, Di Maria arguably outshined the Welshman, playing in a different position and still managing to contribute 17 assists in La Liga. He was named man of the match in the Champions League final against Atletico, a game when Bale and Ronaldo were virtually anonymous. After being seemingly discarded by Real, he emerged as one of their most important players.
RW: Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona
Alexis has constantly been outshone at Barcelona by his more glamorous team mates, and with the arrival of Neymar this summer, many didn’t think he would get a look in any more. Despite an excellent season when he scored 19 goals and made 10 assists in the league, he continues to be unappreciated by Barcelona, with them reportedly offering him to other clubs to make room for new signings. Whoever signs him will be getting a brilliant player at probably a bargain price.
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
After being continually outshone by Lionel Messi ever since he moved to Spain, this was the season when Ronaldo finally stepped out from behind Messi’s shadow. With the little Argentine sidelined by injury for several months, Ronaldo took the opportunity to fire Real Madrid to the Champion’s League title, scoring a record 17 goals in the competition. and a total of 51 goals in 47 games. His statistics since joining Real Madrid continue to defy logic, and now the argument for who the best player in the world is is more difficult than ever before.
ST: Luis Suarez, Liverpool
Love him or loathe him – and most people do the latter – Luis Suarez was easily the best player in the Premier League this season, and almost single-handedly dragged Liverpool to what would have been an unbelievable title win. His 31 goals and 12 assists in the league are even more remarkable considering he missed the first 6 games of the season, and they were enough to win him the Player of the Year award. And yet he came so close to leaving Liverpool before the season started – some Liverpool fans were even hoping he would leave after bringing so much controversy to the club. Those people have almost certainly changed their minds about him now, even if does still infuriate many with his diving antics.
GK: Keylor Navas, Levante
It was a big surprise when the Costa Rican Navas was named in La Liga’s team of the season over Courtois, but it was totally deserved. In his first season as a first choice keeper in La Liga, he kept 15 clean sheets for mid-table Levante.
CB: Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid
It was his last-gasp goal in the Champions League final that allowed Real to go on and win in extra time, and that was the pinnacle of a season when many believe he proved himself as the best defender in the world.
RB: Seamus Coleman, Everton
Coleman, and Leighton Baines on the opposite flank, were a major reason for Everton’s excellent season, and at £60k he is one of the best bargains in football.
CM: Arturo Vidal, Juventus
While Juventus continue to dominate in Italy, they flopped in European competition this season, despite Vidal’s heroics. He is a very well-rounded footballer, scoring 11 league goals and also defending very well.
LW: Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad
The Frenchman who has spent his whole career so far in Spain had his best season yet, scoring 16 league goals. and scored an incredible overhead kick to take Sociedad into the Champions League group stage. At only 23, he will only get better.
RW: Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Hazard improved on his first season at Chelsea, scoring 14 goals and assisting 7. He was also crucial in their run to the Champions League semi finals.
ST: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
He may have had a ‘below-par’ season in the minds of some, but Messi was still the second-highest scoring player in Europe behind Ronaldo, with 36 goals in 38 games. He now heads to a World Cup many are tipping Argentina to win, and if he were to help them do so, he would surely go down as the best player of all time.