La Liga Starting XI for the 2011-2012 Season

Michael CernaCorrespondent IMay 17, 2012

La Liga Starting XI for the 2011-2012 Season

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    One thing this season showed is that some of the very best footballers on the planet play in La Liga. I would put this starting XI against any other league's best players and predict a La Liga victory.

    Unlike my previous starting XI for La Liga that used only one player per team, this list will simply use the best players from each position regardless of which team they play for.

    In continuing with my La Liga season review, here is the third article for fans of the Primera Division.

    My previous two articles ranked the top 50 La Liga players of the season and the top 10 U-21 players in the league.

    This article lists the best starting 11 for La Liga this season.

    Read on to see who made the cut and feel free to discuss any disagreements.

     

    Note: All stats were taken from WhoScored, Fox Soccer and ESPN.

Keeper: Gorka Iraizoz

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    Many will argue for Iker Casillas to be here, but we have to look at the statistical comparison while putting into context the strength of the defense protecting both keepers.

    This season, Iraizoz made 148 saves while conceding only 52 goals. That is 74 percent of shots saved—the best of any keeper with at least 30 starts.

    Yes, even better than Casillas—who made only 85 saves while conceding 31 goals, good for a 73.28 save percentage.

    Iraizoz's 148 saves were the second most in the league and his four saves per start were third best.

    By comparison, Casillas had to make just 85 saves, almost half as many as the Bilbao man. San Iker also only had to make 2.3 saves per game.

    Only Victor Valdes was called into action less than Iker and Valdes is often criticized for how little he actually has to do for Barcelona.

    In other words, Iraizoz is one of the most tested keepers in Spain, but had the highest save percentages in La Liga.

    So he performed better than Iker Casillas despite having an inferior defense.

Right-Back: Dani Alves

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    It is not entirely accurate to call Dani Alves a right-back this season, but that will suit this team just fine.

    With Pep Guardiola using a three-man defense so often this season, Dani Alves was used as a midfielder and even a winger more often that as a right-back.

    He was already widely considered the best attacking right-back in football, so using him in such an offensive role was almost unfair to the competition.

    Alves had 11 assists, which was the most of any defender in Europe. He did that without David Villa, Pedro, Ibrahim Afellay and Alexis Sanchez for much of the season. He also connected on more crosses than any other full-back in the league.

    He was not the best defender—often looking reckless and undisciplined—but he does not have to be at Barcelona or for this starting XI.

Center-Back: Sergio Ramos

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    Due to a string of injuries and lack of depth, Ramos moved back into central defense this year. Not everyone expected him to play better than Pepe would.

    Ramos showed that his positioning and discipline were often lacking and he was not great against set pieces, but he was unquestionably the most consistent defender at Real Madrid.

    Ramos was so great as a center-back this season that Real can do a lot of different things this summer. They can move him back out right and bring in another central defender to partner Pepe or they could keep Ramos in the middle and go after a right-back.

    There are not many defenders who can give a team that kind of option. Ramos may also partner Gerard Pique in the Euros this summer. His performance there could show Madrid which position they need to strengthen this transfer window.

Center-Back: Javi Martinez

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    It may be a bit surprising that a defensive midfielder would be on the starting XI as a center-back, but that just shows how great Javi Martinez has been this season.

    He averaged 3.1 tackles per game, which was the best of any central defender In la Liga. He  averaged 5.2 interceptions per game—second only to Chico.

    Martinez also scored four goals—the most of any central defender in the league—completed 84.3 percent of his passes—good for top five among defenders.

    If someone just started watching Athletic Bilbao this season, they would not even realize that Javi was playing out of his natural position.

Left-Back: Filipe Luis

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    Filipe Luis was a major reason Atletico Madrid had the second-most clean sheets in the league.

    No disrespect intended to Thibaut Courtois, but it was the defense, not the keeping, that was responsible for allowing the fourth-fewest goals in the league and keeping 15 clean sheets.

    Across the board, taking every position into account, Atletico must be in the discussion for best defense this year.

    Luis' 3.8 tackles per game was the best of any top full-back in Spain. The same is true of his 4.5 interceptions per game. Both of those numbers are better than Marcelo, Jordi Alba, Eric Abidal and Nacho Monreal.

    All of those players were great, but Filipe Luis was the best left-back in La Liga this season.

Defensive Midfielder: Jeremy Toulalan

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    Toulalan's season was cut short when he fractured his left foot, but even after missing the final month-and-a-half of play, Jeremy was the best defensive midfielder in La Liga.

    It really is a shame that he did not get to play against Real Madrid or Barcelona in the second half. It may have cost Malaga a third-place finish.

    His injury also denied him the opportunity to show everyone that he was on par with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, widely considered to be the two best defensive midfielders in Spain.

    On the season, Toulalan averaged 5.3 tackles per game, the most in Spain. In fact, in all of Europe, only Arturo Vidal of Juventus was better this season—with 5.4 tackles per game.

Midfielder: Santi Cazorla

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    In my ranking of the 50 best players in La Liga this season, I had Cazorla listed at third.

    Cazorla was arguably the most complete midfielder in the league this season. He can play almost anywhere in midfield and is hard-working on both sides of play.

    His assists were not as numerous as Mezut Ozil's, but he was not passing to Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain either.

    Aside from Xavi, Cazorla had the most goals of any midfielder in the top four teams, with nine. He scored eight of those goals from distance—more than any other player in La Liga.

    Here is one example of how good Santi's eye for goals was. And I doubt any Real Madrid fan has forgotten this nearly unstoppable free kick.

    Santi does not yet have as many fan boys or plaudits as Real Madrid or Barcelona midfielders, but do not let his playing for a lesser team allow you to rate Cazorla lower than he deserves to be.

Midfielder: Mesut Ozil

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    I know Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of Real Madrid's attack will get most of the praise for their record-breaking season, but those records would not have been broken or even neared without Mesut Ozil.

    At least Ronaldo realizes and praises Ozil's influence on Real's success.

    This season, Ozil led all of Europe's major leagues with 17 assists. He also led Europe in all competitions for the second season in a row with 23 total assists.

    Ozil completed just over 87 percent of his passes this season, proving a creative and bold passer. His incredible vision and range made Real's counter-attack the most lethal in Europe.

    Ronaldo or Messi will win the Ballon d'Or, but it is high time players like Ozil and Xavi get more praise and credit for their teams' successes.

Forward: Lionel Messi

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    Lionel Messi is already a Barcelona legend and he had the best statistical season of his career this year.

    Not only did he break the league and European records for goals scored, he basically carried Barcelona to within one match of the Champions League final.

    Messi's 50 goals and eight hat tricks were the most ever in a single season. He also scored more goals in all competitions than any player in history.

    Again, more goals in one campaign than any player in the history of football. Does anyone think I use the words "club legend" too soon?

    Messi's goals per game ratio was 1.35, the best in La Liga. He also added 16 assists to that. Only Ozil had more.

    Barcelona lost four of its five starting forwards this season at various points. Three of them missed half the season.That would cripple most attackers by putting too great a workload on them.

    Messi responded by accounting for nearly 70 goals in the league this season, more than half of the Barcelona's total.

    Only one other player even came close to him this season.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

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    That man is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo—Messi's greatest rival.

    How lucky La Liga fans are that they get to watch the two best players in the world battle each other at least twice a season.

    This rivalry is only in its third season, but is already one of the greatest in history. The debate about which is better could go on forever. This season, Ronaldo was every bit as good as Messi.

    Ronaldo broke a few records himself:

    – Most goals away from home with 23;
    – Most goals in a season for Real Madrid with 46;
    – Tied the all-time club and league record for most penalties in a single season with 12;
    – First player in league history to score in 27 different matches.

    CR7 was the main weapon in the most prolific trio in football history. He was one of only two players to have more than 10 goals and assists—the other being Messi.

    When he scored against Mallorca in the final match of the season, Ronaldo became the first player in league history to score against all 19 teams in a single season.

    Oh, and he also helped lead Real Madrid to their first La Liga title since the 2007-2008 season.

Center Forward: Falcao

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    Possibly the best signing in all of Europe this season.

    Falcao was absolutely immense for Atletico Madrid this season. Not only did he take them to fifth place in La Liga, he also gave them their second Europa League trophy in three years.

    Falcao's 24 goals were more than anyone besides Messi and Ronaldo. Atletico fans must be praying that the club can hold onto him.

    In just his second try, Falcao won his second consecutive Europa League trophy and also became the tournament's second-highest scorer of all time along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

    His 1.00 goals per game ratio is also the second highest in tournament history.

    He now has 30 goals in 30 games. That is second only to Henrik Larsson, who has 40 goals. Of course, Larsson had 26 more games to reach that mark than Falcao did.

    If Falcao stays with Atletico, he has a chance to become the tournament's all-time leading goal scorer, since they will be back in the Europa League next season.

Substitutes

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    These are the subs selected for the squad. I went for versatility while having cover for every position.

    Iker Casillas—Keeper

    Jordi Alba—Left Back

    Adil Rami—Center-Back

    Xabi Alonso—Defensive Midfielder

    Xavi—Midfielder

    Jesus Navas—Winger

    Karim Benzema—Striker

Formation: 4-3-3

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    The team would line up in a 4-3-3 with Dani Alves having freedom to add in the attack. If in need of more defense on the wings, Ramos could play at right back and Rami would play in the middle.

    Toulalan would be the lone holding midfielder with Santi and Alves providing cover.

    Ozil and Santi could switch so that both sides of the field have a scoring threat from distance with Ronaldo on one side and Cazorla on the other.

    It would be hard for any team to get much possession against this starting 11 and the attack is about as good as any that could be formed.

    The front three are definitely the best that any league could put together, as is the midfield. Messi and Ronaldo on the same team, plus Falcao?

    Good luck stopping that.

Alternate Formation: 4-2-3-1

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    Another option would be to use a 4-2-3-1 formation.

    This would allow Xabi Alonso to play in front of Toulalan to link up with the midfield. They would not have to play a counter attack, but if they did, this formation would be better.

    In this case, Adil Rami would take the place of Javi Martinez to ensure that there is depth at defensive midfield on the bench. The defense would definitely not be weakened with Rami in place of Martinez.

    Santi would be the casualty here since he is not as great an attacking midfielder or winger as Ozil and Navas.

    This formation would also give the option of employing Navas wide right instead of having Ozil. Both are suitable, but Navas is the better crosser and has better speed so he would be a great alternative in place of Ozil.