Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and La Liga's All-Star Starting XI

Michael CernaCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2012

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and La Liga's All-Star Starting XI

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    La Liga is rightly criticized for being too top-heavy.

    Fans who do not follow the league look at the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona and assume that those are the only two clubs with top talent.

    That inaccurate perception is the inspiration behind my new five-part series.

    Starting with La Liga, I will tackle Europe's five most popular leagues: La Liga, the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

    My task will be to make the best starting XI that each league can put together.

    But there is a big twist—only one player allowed per club.

    This will give a good impression of just how widely distributed top talent is in each league.

    Generally, this year's performance will be the basis for the list—players like David Villa, Nemanja Vidic and others who have been injured will not be present.

    Read on to see La Liga's starting XI.

    Please note that the formation changed after a few hours of posting the original article.

Keeper: Diego Lopez (Villarreal)

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    One of only a few Villarreal players earning their money this season, Diego Lopez is one of Spain's best keepers.

    Since finally getting out of Real Madrid, Lopez has garnered the attention of many clubs in Europe. The Daily Mirror reported Arsenal scouts watched him perform in 2010. Barcelona once hoped to acquire the keeper to replace Victor Valdes, as reported by Spanish paper AS (per Goal.com).

    He has great command of the box, positioning and range.

    The only reason he has not played more for Spain is because of how congested the fight for second-choice keeper is behind Iker Casillas.

    At the moment, Lopez has to compete with Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and David de Gea.

    He would start for all but a few other national teams in the world.

    If Villarreal get relegated this season, expect Lopez to have a lot of suitors.

Center Back: Ivan Ramis (Mallorca)

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    Ivan Ramis is one of the more underrated players in Spain.

    He is probably the league's most underrated defender. He plays in a 'lesser' team so most fans outside of La Liga do not even know who he is.

    Ramis has formed one of the league's best center back pairings along with Chico who is on loan from Genoa.

    Ramis has great vision and awareness. He is not extremely fast, but the 27 year-old is very strong. His positioning is top class and he often proves that against set pieces.

    Mallorca has disappointed so far this season, but having Ivan Ramis and Chico in defense will help keep them fighting for a top ten spot.

Center Back: Adil Rami (Valencia)

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    Adil Rami was considered one of the best defenders in France before moving to La Liga last summer.

    This very strong defender has been a rock at the back for Valencia—so good that the club is looking to bring in his former Lille teammate Mathieu to bolster the defense, according to L'Equipe (via goal.com).

    Rami's height (6' 3") make him very dangerous in the air and great at defending set pieces.

    His strength and reactions make moving into the middle of the defense very difficult.

    It is no wonder that the Frenchman is being targeting by the likes of Manchester United.

Center Back: Diego Godín (Atletico Madrid)

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    Partnering with Martinez will be Diego Godin.

    Godin has been one of the hottest defensive commodities in football for a few years now.

    The Uruguayan made a name for himself in the 2010 World Cup as one of the best defenders in the tournament.

    He has been the leader of Atletico's back line and will be one of the club's main priorities this summer.

    With Chelsea vying for his signature, according to Goal.com Spain, Godin may end up being replaced by Alberto Botia rather than partnering him.

Defensive Midfielder: Javi Martinez (Atheltic Bilbao)

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    Javi Martinez is naturally a defensive midfielder, but in Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Club, he has proven to be more than capable in central defense.

    Some fans view him as a similar player to Javier Mascherano, but the two players are very different.

    Javi Martinez has more discipline and is a better marker and passer

    He is also more physical—not surprising given the fact that he is six inches taller.

    Martinez has shown that he can handle the best Spain and England have to offer so he is a clear choice for this starting 11.

Defensive Midfielder: Javi Fuego (Rayo Vallecano)

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    Javi Fuego has been one of the best defensive midfielders in the league this season.The 28 year-old is arguably the primary reason that Rayo is fighting for a place in the top six.

    According to WhoScored.com, he averages almost five tackles and seven interceptions per game. The interceptions figure is simply an incredible number.

    Mallroca's Chico, who is second behind Fuego, only averages five interceptions per game.

    Even if there were not a one player per team rule, Fuego would be one of the final considerations for this spot. If he can keep Rayo from avoiding the drop, he may earn a move to a bigger club.

Midfielder: Jesus Navas, Sevilla

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    La Joya has long been considered one of the very best midfielders in Spain.

    The 2010 World Cup saw Navas finally getting over his homesickness and anxiety issues that had hampered him before.

    After coming on as a sub in the final against Holland, Navas played a key role in the build up to Andres Iniesta's game-winning goal.

    Navas is your typical Spanish attacking midfielder: a great passer with great feet and quickness.

    A perfect addition to this squad.

Midfielder: Santi Cazorla, Malaga

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    Cazorla is the perfect compliment to Jesus Navas on the left side.

    Santi is the player that Malaga owner Sheikh Abdullah wants to build his team around.

    He is very ambidextrous and can play anywhere in the front half of the pitch.

    Known for his speed and quickness, Santi is also famous for his free kicks and willingness to challenge defenses.

    Cazorla exudes confidence and would be the natural leader of this midfield.

Midfielder: Raul Garcia (Osasuna)

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    Raul Garcia returned to his former club this season on loan from Atletico Madrid. He has been one of Osasuna's best players so far.

    Against Barcelona in Osasuna's upset win against the reigning champions, Garcia scored one goal and assisted another. He was the best midfielder on the night—against Barcelona.

    Atletico signed Garcia in hopes that he would provide a handful of goals from the midfield. He did not quite turn out to be the signing they wanted, but he has been that person in Pamplona.

    So far, Garcia has scored five goals for Osasuna. Perhaps sending him on loan was the best thing Atletico could have done for him.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo, (Real Madrid)

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    Cristiano Ronaldo is the complete footballer. He is simply built to play the forward position.

    With great strength, speed, explosiveness and aerial ability, Ronaldo is one of the most dangerous scoring threats to ever play the game.

    He is a master free kick taker and has not missed a penalty kick since 2009—his only miss in a Real Madrid jersey.

    With Michu controlling the attack and Navas feeding Ronaldo on the right side, this attack would be deadly as is.

    The fact that Ronaldo's partner is his only rival for the title of "greatest player of his generation" makes the attack nearly legendary.

Forward: Lionel Messi, (Barcelona)

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    If Ronaldo does not convince as the best player in the world, it is because of this man.

    Lionel Messi already has more individual and team awards at 24 than most great players win in their lifetime.

    He is the three-time reigning World Player of the Year and has been part of three Champions League winning sides.

    Barcelona's all-time leading scorer actually gets better every season.

    A few years ago people said that his height was a detriment to his game, but he has proven to be quite good in the air despite his short stature.

    Last season his weakness was free kicks.

    So Messi spent the summer working on his technique and has scored more free kick goals than Ronaldo this season.

    This summer he will work on penalties.

    What is scary for the rest of football is that Lionel Messi has still not reached his prime.

    What will he try to correct when he is 28?

Formation: 3-5-2

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    The attack alone makes this one of the most formidable teams that can be assembled in any league.

    The three-man defense may seem risky, but having these five Spanish midfielders will also help ensure that possession is controlled.

    With Diego Lopez in goal, the defense can feel a bit safer.

Conclusion

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    How would you rate this team?

    Are there any changes you would make?

    Can they handle the best of the Premier League?

    What about Serie A's attack?

    The attack is peerless and the midfield superb.

    Just wait and see what the rest of Europe has to offer.

    Check back tomorrow for the Premier League's All Star Starting XI.