Top 6 Performances in La Liga This Season
As I wrap up my season review for La Liga, I wanted to put the spotlight on some of the best individual performances of the season.
From all of the many fantastic showings of countless players, I put a list together of what I saw as the biggest, best performances.
In making this list, I considered several factors: the quality of the performer compared to his team and the opposition; the timing and setting of the performance; and the significance of the result on his team's season.
Please read on to see the six best performances of the 2011-2012 season.
Honorable Mention: Apoño Keeps Zaragoza in La Liga
It was fitting that Apoño be the man to score and keep Zaragoza in the first division. With his 58-minute goal, the Spaniard on loan from Malaga essentially kept his new team in La Liga for another season.
Over the last two months of the season, Apoño was one of the best players in the league. He led a series of dramatic, late victories.
He scored the winner against Atletico Madrid and Valencia back in March. It was those wins that started to give the team hope—even when fans like myself had written them off.
Before Apoño came in on loan, Real Zaragoza was on its way to becoming the worst team in the history of the league in terms of point and goal totals.
In the second half of the season, there was no more important player to his team than Apoño was to Real Zaragoza.
6. Navas Destroys Rayo
In that match, Sevilla man-handled Rayo Vallecano 5-2, and Navas was the main reason for that.
He accounted for four of the five goals but was only credited with three assists. He could have had a couple of goals but chose instead to feed his teammates for the finish.
Sevilla was wildly inconsistent this season, but a strong finish led by Navas brought them into Europa League contention.
That momentum will certainly help Navas going into the Euros this summer.
5. Raul Garcia Ends Barcelona's Title Defense
The season was not officially over until May, but many fans knew Barcelona's title defense ended with this match. The loss to Osasuna put the reigning champs 10 points behind Real Madrid, who had looked unstoppable at that point.
Raul Garcia inspired Osasuna to their biggest win of the season against a Barcelona side without its best midfield trio.
In the fourth minute, Garcia's very clever flick to Dejan Lekic left the striker with an open shot, with which he scored properly.
Lekic would give Osasuna his second before Alexis Sanchez put Barcelona back in the match with a goal of his own. Then Garcia officially ended it just five minutes later with the third goal of the night.
Barcelona limped on until the Clasico, drawing back to within four points, but Raul Garcia had really ended their hopes at retaining their title just two months earlier.
4. Javi Varas vs. Barcelona
Javi Varas had the best match of the season and maybe of his career in October.
The 29 year-old Andalusian had little help from his teammates in attack so he carried his team to a draw. The entire team received the point, but there is no question about who earned it.
Varas made eight saves against Barcelona, all of them fantastic. The accompanying video shows just how much work he had to do on the evening.
Lionel Messi, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Seydou Keita, Adriano, Thiago, and Dani Alves all had chances to score. All failed.
Messi had the best chance of the night with a penalty attempt, but not even that could get by Sevilla's shot-stopper. I don't think anyone would have beaten Varas that night.
With Diego Lopez recently signing on from Villarreal, one has to wonder whether Varas will stay with his youth club or will choose to move on.
Lopez also proved again this season that he can handle Barcelona's attack as well as anyone, but will Varas want to play second-fiddle at his age?
Note: Varas has since moved to Celta Vigo on loan.
3. Magisterial Messi
Call it The Lionel Messi Show.
Messi had multiple performances that were worthy of this list: his four goals against Valencia, the second match against Malaga, his opener against Villarreal, his destruction of Atletico Madrid in the first half, etc.
In the end, this match won out because of the quality of his goals and Ray Hudson's voice. Plus, most fans saw those matches—what about these other guys?
In this match, Messi was at his very best. First, he finished off a cross from Adriano with a great header into the far side of the box.
His next two goals were just...Well, Magisterial! Messi carved through Malaga's defense with two fantastic runs before coolly slotting the ball home.
The touch on the final put-away was superb. That night he finished with 22 goals in 19 league appearances. Unbelievable.
2. Guaita Outshines Casillas
In my ranking of the top 50 players in La Liga, I described how Guaita was arguably the best keeper in La Liga this season.
His performance against Real Madrid alone would put him in that discussion. Valencia went to Madrid to face the most potent attack La Liga has ever seen.
If Los Che were going to have a shot at taking back over third, Vicente Guaita would need to have a nearly perfect match and still get help from his teammates. Real was certain to score. Guaita just needed to limit the damage.
In perhaps the understatement of the season, Guaita proved up to the challenge. The Spaniard made 10 saves on the night with Real Madrid having 32 shots.
His reactive save of Angel di Maria's shot was possibly the highlight, but he was spectacular all night.
In a strange way, Guaita may have inspired the top performance of the season.
1. Ronaldo vs. Atletico Madrid
Let me explain why I said Guaita may have inspired this performance.
To really understand that statement and the weight of Ronaldo's performance, we have to understand the context of this derby.
One month before this match, Real Madrid had built a 10-point lead over their rivals Barcelona with Osasuna's aforementioned victory over the defending champions.
Then, just as the league looked to be over, Real Madrid began to show signs of weakness.
They ended up drawing their next two matches and losing four points in just three days. The next two matches were rather easy, and Real Madrid was able to slow its skid.
But then, in a nearly must-win match for Valencia, Vicente Guaita held the league's best team to a goalless draw.
The media went wild. Many saw that draw at the turning point in the title race. It allowed Barcelona to get within four points of the leaders, an unbelievable turnaround from the 10-point gap built just 30 days earlier.
It is in this setting that Cristiano Ronaldo silenced all critics. He had been criticized for not playing well in big matches. Well, there was no bigger match this season than the upcoming Madrid derby.
With Madrid reeling and Barcelona on fire, Real Madrid would need at least a draw against their cross-town rivals. A loss would have given Real just a one-point lead with the Clasico in 10 days.
When the final whistle had blown and the derby ended, Cristiano Ronaldo may have saved Real Madrid's season.
CR7 was a terror all night, but Atletico just kept fighting. Yet, despite the best efforts of Falcao, Ronaldo kept halting Atletico's momentum just when they were within reach of victory.
His first goal off a free kick was as perfect as any and was one of the 20 best goals of the season in La Liga.
The second was just as great as he used the most of a small opening at the top of the box. More importantly, it came 13 minutes after Falcao had leveled on a great header.
Then, as Atletico had taken all the momentum back and the rest of Real seemed to be looking over their shoulders at Barcelona, CR7 stepped up again with a converted penalty. That goal completed his hat trick and killed off Atletico.
Atletico's spirit may have been broken, but Real Madrid had been inspired.
The club went on to beat Barcelona to all but clinch the title and would not lose any points for the rest of the season.
And it was all because of Vicente Guaita. I suppose Ronaldo deserves a little credit as well.