The Top 50 Players in La Liga This Season

Michael CernaCorrespondent IMay 15, 2012

The Top 50 Players in La Liga This Season

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    The 2011-2012 edition of La Liga is finally over. What a spectacular season us fans were witness to.

    This season saw records falls that had stood for decades, both at the team and individual level. Some star players left the league only to have their replacements put them almost out of memory.

    Spanish teams held five of the eight semifinal spots in the Champions and Europa League. Atletico Madrid became champions while the others had failed.

    Real Madrid finally ended Barcelona's reign under Pep Guardiola. Now they will try to start a new dynasty of their own.

    Beginning with this list, I will provide La Liga fans with an in-depth season review. I will have player rankings, season awards, and various other works.

    Tune in throughout the week to see continued coverage of one of the most exciting La Liga seasons in recent memory.

    For now, read on to find out the 50 best players in the league this season.

    While the top five are ranked in order, the rest are loosely ranked.

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

Honorable Mentions

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    With so many great players in Spain this season, many footballers had to be left out.

    These players either did not play enough, did not perform consistently enough over the entire season, or were otherwise just short of making the top 50.

    Forwards:
    Negredo (Sevilla)
    Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona)

    Midfielders:
    Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao)
    Angel di Maria (Real Madrid)

    Defenders:
    Monreal (Malaga)
    Ivan Ramis (Mallorca)

    Keepers:
    Diego Lopez (Villarreal)
    Victor Valdes (Barcelona)

50. Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

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    Puyol barely makes this list despite having a rather poor overall campaign.

    This year, Barcelona's defense was very unstable, to put it lightly. They could not perform on set pieces, they were caught out of position, and they looked slow.

    Puyol was just as guilty as anyone in the first half of the season, but I put much of his poor play on his injuries. He had only 25 appearances this season.

    Thankfully, he stayed healthier than his partner Pique and was able to step up his play during the second half. He was a main reason Barcelona nearly made up a 12-point gap on Real Madrid.

    Puyol did not play his best football, really, until Eric Abidal went down. Before that, the Frenchman was Barcelona's best defender.

    Puyol's second half effort was so great that it will cause many to forget the first few months. Even his second-half play was much weaker than what we expect from him.

    With nagging injuries continuing to be a problem, I think this was the last season we will see Puyol start more than 20 matches in a season.

49. Arouna Kone (Levante)

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    Individually, Levante is short on superstars.

    Kone is probably the closest thing the Valencian club has to a star. The 28 year-old Ivorian notched 15 goals this campaign along with four assists.

    Levante was the poorest team in the league this season, so they could not afford to bring any quality players in. Kone was only brought in on loan from Sevilla.

    That is why their results this season are a testament both to the collective effort of the team as well as the nature of the game itself.

    Kone has an odd clause which stated that scoring 18 goals would send him back to Sevilla.

    He avoided activating that clause by missing his final three matches "through injury." This means a permanent switch to Levante may be in order.

48. Joan Verdu (Espanyol)

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    Verdu has been Espanyol's best player this season. He co-led the club with five goals and added five assists.

    He did not have an exceptional supporting cast, which hurt his numbers significantly, but overall Verdu still had a solid season.

    He averaged 2.2 key passes per game which trails only Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Jesus Navas, and Diego. He also completed nearly 84 percent of his passes.

    Espanyol's financial problems will see them needing to sell some key players. Verdu would be a good investment for a lot of clubs, but at 29 years old, it is more likely that the best of his teammates will be sold instead.

47. Ruben Castro (Real Betis)

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    This 30 year old attacker has not lost a step. He had 16 goals this season which makes Castro the most prolific scorer in Sevilla.

    It also marked a career best for the journeyman. His five assists—second-best on the team—were also a career high.

    Ruben has helped make Betis one of the more exciting teams to watch in La Liga.

    They drew Barcelona in the final match of the season thanks to a brace by the Spaniard. He was also one of the key figures in a great match against champions Real Madrid in March.

    In both matches, Castro held his own with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Even if it was just for two matches, not many footballers can say that.

46. Markel Susaeta (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Susaeta may be the best representation of how Marcelo Bielsa has transformed Athletic Club into one of the most beautiful football showcases in Europe.

    When on top form, which unfortunately was infrequent this season, Athletic Bilbao could go toe-to-toe with any team in Europe.

    The 24 year-old Susaeta was relatively unknown outside of Spain before this season. His coming out game came against Manchester United in the Europa League.

    His six goals were second only to Fernando Llorente and he co-led the team with seven assists. These seven assists matched Xavi's output for the season.

    While many football giants will be going after the young star this summer, Athletic Bilbao will do their best to hold onto Susaeta and its other young stars.

45. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

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    Many would argue that it has been a rather disappointing season for Andres Iniesta. That statement alone is a testament to his quality.

    His health was the main reason El Ilusionista was not at his best. A number of injuries kept him on the sidelines throughout the season. He only started 21 league matches.

    On the year, the midfield maestro had fewer minutes on the pitch than Cesc Fabregas. He did not even reach 2000 minutes during the season.

    Despite all that, Don Andres had a career high nine assists. That was good for third-most on Barcelona seventh-best in the league.

    This was a "bad" season?

44. Sergio Ballesteros (Levante)

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    At 36 years old, Ballesteros is having one of his best seasons ever.  The ageless wonder has been an integral part to Levante's magical run.

    Ballesteros has sort of become the face for the "team with ugly players that plays ugly football." He epitomizes what Levante has done this season.

    He is a good representation of the club's season because he is old, past his prime, has no business finishing in the top six and showed that grit and desire can often overcome any short-comings in talent.

    The average age of Levante's defense was 35. Despite not being the fastest or strongest defender, Sergio was fearless all season.

43. Adil Rami (Valencia)

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    Adil Rami has been one of the best signings of the season. He has been a top-5 defender and the man most responsible for keeping Valencia's defense above average.

    Rami helped lead a very average Valencia defense to 14 clean sheets—third-most in the league and equal with Real Madrid.

    The Frenchman's impact has been immediate. In his debut, he scored his first goal on a header against Racing Santander.

    Rami proved immediately that he was a big threat in the air. He is not very fast, but he is strong and has great positioning.

42. Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao)

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    When deciding who the best right back was this season, there are three names who are discussed most often—Dani Alves, Arbeloa, and Iraola. No disrespect intended toward Juanfran.

    Dani Alves is arguably the best attacking fullback in the league, but his defense leaves something to be desired.

    Arbeloa has been prone to many errors and was the clear weak link in Real Madrid's defense. He only played out of necessity as the defense got thin.

    Iraola was arguably the most balanced of all three. He was a great attacking threat, providing three assists and one goal. He was also a solid defender, averaging more interceptions per game of all three—2.7.

    He was very hard-working, needed to play the entire length of the field and often switched offensive and defensive duties mid-match.

    Iraola played so well that he may have just earned a trip to London for the Euro this summer. As one of the best right backs in the league this season, he earned it.

41. Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)

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    Fabregas has had an incredible first season with boyhood club Barcelona. The first half of his season was best, although, he had been solid all along.

    Still, his fading off as the season gets further continues a worrying trend that he had at Arsenal. He will need to be consistent for a full season to become a permanent member of Barcelona's midfield.

    Statistically, Cesc has had the best season of any Barcelona midfielder and one of his best ever—nine goals and eight assists.

    Him being used in a more attacking role surely accounts for that. Cesc developed a nearly telepathic partnership with Messi early on that kept him on the attacking front all season.

    Still, if he is to replace Iniesta in the future, he will need to develop the discipline and patience that comes with being a true midfielder, while wearing La Blaugrana.

40. Jose Barkero (Levante)

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    Barkero has been the engine that drove Levante to top six all season.

    He led the team with eight assists and is third in goals with seven. His eight assists put him level with Xavi and Kaka. Imagine if he had Messi or Ronaldo to finish his passes.

    Whether it was against Real Madrid in the former's first loss of the season or the final win against Athletic Club that clinched the Europa League, Barkero played his best football when his team needed him most.

    The 33 year old started playing professional football back in 1996. He will finally get a taste of European football next season now that Levante has qualified for the Europa League.

    Try and tell Jose Barkero that it is a meaningless competition.

39. Jordi Alba (Valencia)

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    Jordi Alba has improved immensely this season.

    Never a player short on pace or determination, Alba's size and reading of the game has always left something to be desired.

    By shifting him into a more midfield role this season, Unai Emery may have unlocked Alba's knowledge and understanding of the game.

    The Catalan has now gotten stronger, more bold, and has gotten quicker to react. He will likely be starting in the Euro this summer.

    He has done well enough to attract the likes of Manchester United and his boyhood club Barcelona. Keep an eye on Jordi Alba in the next transfer window.

38. Marcelo (Real Madrid)

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    Roberto Carlos' heir is the most technically gifted of almost any fullback in football.

    The Brazilian has incredible feet and is one of the best passing left backs in Spain. This season Marcelo completed 83 percent of his passes.

    He tied Jordi Alba for the most assists of any left back with five. He is part of football's new trend that utilizes attack-minded fullbacks.

    Marcelo is not a very solid defender and often struggles against faster forwards.Fabio Coentrao has slowly received preference over Marcelo when playing a team with pacy, creative wingers.

    Teams have started spreading Real Madrid at the back and Marcelo's defensive liability is a major cause. That, coupled with the poor marking of Pepe and Ramos on set pieces.

37. Dudu Aouate (Mallorca)

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    Quite simply, Aouate has been one of La Liga's best keepers this season. In terms of save percentage, shots saved and goals per game, he was top five.

    Among keepers with at least 30 starts, the Mallorca man had the second-best save percentage in La Liga—at 73.14 percent.

    His performance against Atletico Madrid back in March may be the best showcase of his abilities. In this match, he almost single-handedly held off a red hot Atletico team by putting on a clinic in goal.

    In that match, Aouate made eight saves, one which was a penalty save against Falcao. Another fingertip save while diving to save an Eduardo Salvio shot showed that he was in top form.

    Even after losing his best defender and going down to 10 men, the Israeli made numerous saves to keep the score in Mallorca's favor.

    That was his best match, but not his only great one.

    Before the final match against Real Madrid, Aouate had only allowed more than three goals one other time to Barcelona. He allowed more than two goals only four times.

    At 34 years old, he may have saved his best season for last.

36. Pepe (Real Madrid)

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    Pepe helped form arguably the best central defensive pairing in Spain this season. He may be reckless and rather classless, but his talent is undeniable.

    The pairing often showed weaknesses against counter attacks, but many of Pepe's lapses were often a result of having to cover too much ground after Sergio Ramos had ventured too far forward.

    Pepe proved to be a liability on set pieces, but was arguably the best in the league when it came to man-marking opposing forwards.

    The Portuguese player has great strength and is very bold, never backing down from a challenge no matter the opposition.

    That preference for physicality often leads to lapses in concentration and control, but when his temper does not get the best of him, he is one of the best defenders in football.

35. Borja Valero (Villarreal)

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    Borja Valero is too good to play for Villarreal. Period.

    A team that has players like Valero, Bruno, Nilmar, Diego Lopez, Musacchio, Zapata and Marcos Senna has no business getting relegated. In fact, they have no business being in the bottom third of the table.

    Yet, an injury to their star forward, a couple coaching changes and a board that has publicly stated its lack of ambition has now sent the Yellow Submarine to Spain's Segunda Division.

    While the club will hope to hold on to its top players, it will only amount to a dream. Villarreal will see a mass exodus this summer. Valero will be one of the first to go.

    In the past, he has voiced his desire to be let go and with clubs like Malaga and Atletico Madrid likely interested, it will be impossible to keep him.

34. Miguel Moya (Getafe)

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    I challenge anyone to show me a football team with more depth at keeper than Valencia.

    After losing his place to Cesar Sanchez and then Diego Alves, Moya was deemed excess at the Andalusian club.

    Now, Valencia may be able to cash in on the former Mallorca man. Diego Alves is used for non-league matches and Vicente Guaita proved to be one of the league's best keepers this season.

    If Getafe is unable to work out a permanent deal, there will surely be numerous clubs drooling over Moya.

    The 28 year old was after the best season of his career. He saved 132 shots and his save percentage was 73.33 percent. That is slightly better than Iker Casillas.

    Speaking of Casillas, there are rumors that Real Madrid is looking for a new backup. Miguel Moya may be the best option for Jose Mourinho this summer.

33. Chico (Mallorca)

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    One of the men most responsible for Aouate's great season is Chico. Along with Ivan Ramis, Chico formed one of La Liga's best central defense pairings in Spain.

    He averaged 5.5 interceptions per game which is the highest of any defender in the league.

    Chico arrived on loan at the beginning of the season from Genoa and Mallorca has an option to purchase him this summer. I expect the move to be made, but if not, plenty of clubs will look to him.

    Malaga is just one club who will be looking for more depth at central defense, and Chico being just 25 years old makes him an appealing option.

32. Javier Mascherano (Barcelona)

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    I can only imagine how awful Barcelona's defense would have been this season without Mascherano. Javier played in 17 clean sheets, more than any defender in La Liga.

    He has been in the middle of some key defensive lapses and I have been quick to criticize him all along. But make no mistake, Mascherano has been absolutely vital to Barcelona's success.

    His inability to mark on set pieces and quick counter attacks is a result of him being a defensive midfielder in a three-man defense. But, what he lacks in marking and positional awareness he makes up with pace, reading of plays and tackling.

    He may not be the elite center back that many Barcelona fans would like to think he is, but he is still one of the best defenders in La Liga.

    To play as well as he has with so much being out of his traditional understanding of the game says loads about Mascherano.

31. Michu (Rayo Vallecano)

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    Michu was the most dangerous midfield threat in Spain this season. He scored 15 goals and had three assists.

    His 15 goals were better than any Barcelona player not named Lionel Messi. Quite the feat considering the comparative lack of talent at Rayo Vallecano.

    He led a team that took their relegation battled down to the last minutes of the season. Michu is the only La Liga midfielder who has scored more than 10 goals.

    He does not have much pace and is not a great passer, but he obviously has an eye for goals.

    Michu's first season in the first division saw him become one of the best signings of the season. He looks to have earned a bigger paycheck for next season.

    If he goes to England, his style of play could see him excel and surprise a lot of Premiership fans who did not follow him this season.

30. Gabi (Atletico Madrid)

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    I hate to sound like a broken record, but did any club in Europe have a better transfer window last summer than Atletico Madrid?

    Gabi is not quite like the other signings since he was simply returning to his youth club. Four years after being away from Madrid, he finally made it home.

    After captaining Real Zaragoza last season and keeping them from relegation, Atletico was willing to make him the anchor of their defense. He responded by helping turn Madrid's defense into a top-class unit.

    His partnership with fellow youth graduate Mario Suarez has arguably been the best in the league. Gabi averaged 3.4 tackles and interceptions per game, being key to Atletico's success this season.

    Everything started and ended with Fernandez. He was the last man shielding the defense and was also responsible for starting the counter attack.

    He may look like he is about to enter his 40s, but the 28 year-old should be a key part of Atletico's squad as he gets even better in the coming years.

29. Gonzalo Castro (Mallorca)

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    Chori has been the best South American midfielder in La Liga this season. With six goals and nine assists, he has been one of the best midfielders of any nationality.

    It is surprising that he has managed only three appearances for the Uruguayan National Team so far, but he has done his best to warrant a look this year.

    Other than Jesus Navas, it was Castro who had the most assists outside of Spain's Big Two. The 27 year-old winger averaged 1.8 successful crosses per game, again only being outdone by Jesus Navas.

    I would love to have seen what Chori could have done alongside Samuel Eto'o.

    Joaquin Caparros hated the fact that his club finished against Real Madrid this season. Before that loss, Mallorca had gone on a four-game winning streak and was on the verge of clinching a Europa League spot.

    This time around, the club would have been allowed to keep that place in the table and could have bought some more talent this summer.

28. Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Watching Javi this season, you would rarely know that he is playing out of position.

    The converted defensive midfielder has shown tremendous discipline and positional awareness in his first full season in central defense.

    Martinez has immediately become one of the best CBs in La Liga.

    His 3.1 tackles per game were the best of any central defender. The 5.2 interceptions per game were second only to Chico.

    Martinez also completed 84.3 percent of his passes becoming one of the top five among defenders. He averaged more passes per game than any other Bilbao player with 54.1. That was second only to Mascherano among all CBs.

    He also proved to be a reliable goal threat by scoring four goals, the most of any CB in the league. This all shows how central Martinez was to Bielsa's game.

    He may have even play well enough to earn a spot in Vicente del Bosque's Euro squad this summer, possibly even as a starter.

27. Arda Turan (Atletico Madrid)

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    A common theme with many midfielders on this list, Turan is one of the most underrated players in Europe.

    The Turkish national is one of the most complete midfielders on the continent. He has also quickly become a fan favorite.

    He can score goals and is capable of shooting from distance. He scored three goals this season and that was relatively low for him.

    He is a tremendous passer, completing over 83 percent of his passes this year. He also led the team with six assists—a career best.

    Turan is also solid on the defensive side of the ball. He averaged 2.2 interceptions per game, very respectable for a non-defensive midfielder.

    Galatasaray has said they will bring him back on the right of first refusal, but Atletico will not want to get rid of Turan any time soon.

26. Vicente Guaita (Valencia)

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    Raise your hand if you expected Guaita to finish the season with the highest save percentage in La Liga this season... so I can call your bluff.

    Before the loss of his father prematurely ended his season last term, Guaita had earned the starting job under manager Unai Emery. He then signed a contract extension through 2015.

    While he had shown lots of potential, I do not think many expected Guaita to have one of the best seasons in Spain. After all, it was the first time he entered a season as the first-choice.

    Despite expectations, Guaita finished the season with the highest save percentage among keepers with at least 25 starts. His 77.06 percent was better than Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes, and everyone else in La Liga.

    Guaita's 0.96 goals per game was second only to Casillas and Valdes. Of course, Guaita did not have Carles Puyol or Sergio Ramos in front of goal.

    Despite the weaker defense, Guaita allowed the fewest goals in La Liga. Unfortunately, he did not have enough starts to qualify for the Zamora Trophy—despite making 24 more saves.

    At only 25 years of age, Valencia may be housing the man who will become La Liga's best keeper in a few years time.

25. Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Over the last two season, Muniain has become one of the most exciting prospects in all of Europe.

    Clubs like Juventus are ready to break the bank for the teenager. Manchester United have also expressed interest after getting an up-close look at him in the Europa League.

    He was only responsible for five goals this season, but not everything can be put into a statistic.

    Muniain is an incredible play-maker who can spread play and create lots of space for his teammates. He would be a very appetizing prospect for any club in need of a versatile winger.

    Whoever ends up with the youngster, whether Bilbao or another club, they will have gained a player with near endless potential.

    This is a youngster looking to be on his way to being one of the best in the world.

24. Raul Garcia (Osasuna)

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    Garcia has been the main reason Osasuna has fought for a top six spot this season. Atletico Madrid must be dying to get him back to the club.

    After being sent on loan to his former club, Raul Garcia has emerged as one of the most dangerous midfield threats in the entire league.

    He scored 10 goals, which gives him more than any midfielder in La Liga. That is also double the number he scored in his best season at Atletico.

    Garcia also led Osasuna with eight assists on the year. He may now be ready to be the midfield scoring threat that Atletico needs.

    Garcia has done this without Iniesta or Mesut Ozil providing for him and without Messi or Ronaldo to finish his passes.

23. Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

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    Soldado is one of the better strikers in Europe right now. If he played for a team like Real Madrid or Barcelona, he would likely be able to put up much better numbers.

    The former Real Madrid youth player has been an outstanding replacement for David Villa since arriving from Getafe last year.

    In his first two seasons at the Andalusian club, he has amassed 35 goals in La Liga. This year he had arguably his best season with 17 goals and six more assists—a career best.

    There is a bit of injustice for a player of Soldado's caliber. He never played a significant role for Real Madrid and Valencia is obviously incapable of regaining their status as one of Europe's best clubs.

    He does deserve to play for a bigger club, but the idea of such a talented player leaving La Liga is not a positive one for me.

22. Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)

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    The Lion King continues to cement his place in Basque history. He is building a legacy as one of the greater strikers the region has ever produced.

    This season he scored 17 goals. Along with Roberto Soldado, that was the best mark of any Spaniard.

    He is not the most agile attacker and can often go missing when used as a lone forward, but Llorente is still one of the most instinctual finishers in the game.

    His towering figure makes him arguably the deadliest finisher in the air and allows Bilbao to get very creative with its supporting cast. Having such a strong, capable target man gives lots of options out wide, and lets the team take a lot of chances.

    He was battling Soldado this season for the starting role in the Euro this summer. Finishing level on goals will not make the decision very easy for del Bosque.

21. Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid)

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    Higuain is the only player on this list who started less than 20 matches. Of course, with 35 appearances total and more goals than the man in front of him, I doubt anyone will complain.

    The Argentinian is the third man in Real Madrid's record-setting attack. Statistically speaking, he helped form the most dangerous attacking trio that Europe has ever seen.

    Despite starting less than 20 matches, the Argentinian scored 22 goals. This was the fifth-most in La Liga.

    His goals per start ratio was 1.22. Just for comparison's sake, his partner Karim Benzema's goals per start ratio was 0.75.

    He has been incredibly efficient this season, but may leave Madrid in order to get more chances at starting. If he does leave, someone in Europe will get one of the best strikers in football.

20. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

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    Widely regarded as the best keeper in football, Iker Casillas will once again be a favorite for UEFA Keeper of the Year.

    St. Iker conceded one fewer goal this season than last—with 31 allowed this season.

    He allowed 0.84 goals per game, good for second-best in the league behind Victor Valdes. However, he faced 128 shots on goal compared to just 95 for Valdes.

    Casillas also saved 25 more shots than Valdes and averaged 2.3 shots per game compared to 1.71 for the latter.

    Stats do not always give the full picture, though. Iker Casillas may not have been the best keeper in La Liga this season, but that does not affect his title as best in the league, if not Europe.

    When another keeper can say they won two Champions League finals before they turned 21 or has made world class saves for over a decade, then they can take that title away from Casillas.

    Chances are that Casillas will retire first.

19. Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)

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    As a unit across the entire back line, Atletico is in any discussion about the best defense in Spain this season. They had the second-fewest clean sheets in the league.

    As arguably the best left back in the league, Luis deserves a lot of credit for that.

    The Brazilian helped make the Vicente Calderon the second stingiest stadium in Spain.

    His 3.8 tackles per game was the best of any top fullback 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. Like I said, Filipe Luis was the best left back in La Liga this season.

18. Javi Fuego (Rayo Vallecano)

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    Rayo Vallecano better still be thanking Javi Fuego. Without him this season, chances are the Madrid-based club would be in the second division next season.

    Fuego's masterful control of the midfield turned a mediocre team into a Europa League contender throughout most of the season.

    He was one of the best defensive midfielders in the Primera Division, and even Europe. Fuego made 7.1 interceptions per game this season. That number is absolutely insane!

    No one outside of Spain even averaged 5 tackles per game. He had the third-most tackles per game with 5.3.

    There are rumors that Malaga are looking to sign Fuego and if that happens, it will instantly make him a part of one of Spain's very best midfield units.

    Having two of the best defensive midfielders in the league in Fuego and Toulalan would greatly help that porous defense.

17. Dani Alves (Barcelona)

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    Alves was one of the key pieces in Pep Guardiola's usage of a three-man defense. The Brazilian further made his claim as the best offensive-minded right back in football.

    His 11 assists were the most of any defender in Europe. Keep in mind that he was without David Villa, Pedro, Ibrahim Afellay and Alexis Sanchez for much of the season.

    Alves had made improvements on defense last season, but this year he failed to progress further. He actually proved more reckless when tackling and earned two red cards on the year.

    That is not to say he was poor. His 3.4 tackles per game were the third-best among fullbacks. Alves also had the most accurate crosses per game of any other fullback.

    It is unknown whether or not Tito Villanueva will continue to experiment with three defenders next season, but he has to know that Dani Alves is the perfect player for such a formation.

16. Isco (Malaga)

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    Isco has been La Liga's breakout player of the season this campaign. He has been nothing short of spectacular and has made Malaga's willingness to invest €6 into a teenager look brilliant.

    Valencia will probably regret letting this youth product go for a very long time. Him leaving Valencia is just another example of how crippling La Liga's debt issues can be.

    For some, Isco is reminiscent of a young Andres Iniesta. To draw comparisons to such a great play-maker at just 20 years old is simply incredible.

    With so many talented players surrounding him, Sheikh Abdullah may have found the man who can turn his club into a competitor for years to come.

    Isco has incredible control on the ball and is never afraid to take control. He is also not afraid to shoot—as you can see with this goal.

    Keep your eye on this youngster.

15. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

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    Much like Mascherano, Ramos has spent much of this season playing out of his normal position—even though he has lots of experience in central defense.

    Due to a string of injuries and lack of depth, Ramos has continued his conversion back to central defense.

    When playing as a center back, Ramos is often late getting back to the attack and gets too wide, leaving the rest of the defense vulnerable and the midfield too deep.

    Still, he has done splendidly when recovering that position and has saved the defense more often than he has hurt them. Ramos excels in the attack and on controlling the opposition's wide play.

    He has moved back into the position so seamlessly that it is a right back rather than a center back that many Real fans think is the priority.

    For many fans, Sergio Ramos was the best center back in La Liga this season.

14. Gorka Iraizoz (Athletic Bilbao)

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    Bilbao has the most underrated stopper in La Liga. 

    In Bilbao's last match against Real Madrid, it was Iraizoz who stopped Cristiano Ronaldo's penalty. That was Ronaldo's first league miss in three years and only his second in a Real Madrid jersey.

    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.

    His 148 saves are second-best in the league and his 4 saves per start are third best.

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

    He is also a major reason that Athletic Club made it to the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. Iraizoz allowed only three goals in the tournament, the fewest of any club that made it to the quarter finals.

13. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

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    Benzema was the fourth-best scorer in La Liga and part of Real Madrid's record-setting attack.

    The young Frenchman took a great deal of pressure off of Ronaldo. Scoring 21 goals of his own allowed Ronaldo to stay out wide and not get too much closure from the defense.

    Having two strikers each capable of scoring 20 goals makes Ronaldo that much more dangerous since opposing defenses are unable to focus solely on him.

    Benzema finished top five in scoring and also had seven assists. With a career best in goals and assists this season, Benzema has really developed into one of Europe's best forwards.

    Almost every Real Madrid fan is hoping Gonzalo Higuain stays at the Bernabeu, but having a talent such as Benzema will at least help soften the blow of such a potential loss.

12. Bruno Soriano (Villarreal)

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    Bruno has been fantastic this season. He is one of the most respected and yet underrated players in the league.

    If not for the freakish statistical season Javi Fuego had, Bruno would have had the most interceptions per game in all of Europe—5.6.

    Bruno also more passes per game—69.9—and had a higher passing percentage—87.9—than any player outside of the Big Two. He also scored three goals this season, the most of any defensive midfielder.

    His passing percentage was higher than that of David Silva and Juan Mata. No wonder clubs like Manchester United are keen to sign the 26 year-old.

    With Villarreal getting relegated in the final match of the season, it will take something special for the club to hold onto their star midfielder.

    Any club looking for a great game manager would be wise to inquire about Bruno Soriano.

11. Jeremy Toulalan (Malaga)

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    The Frenchman made Malaga's defense look far better than they actually were for most of the season. Toulalan was as good as any other defensive midfielder in La Liga.

    Santi Cazorla will rightly get the praise for Malaga's emergence this year, but Toulalan has been in inspiring form all season and was the driver behind what has become one of the best midfields in Spain.

    It is a shame that Toulalan suffered an injury in the second half as it ended up probably costing Malaga a third place finish.

    It just goes to show how important a player he is, though.

    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.

    Since defensive midfielders tend to improve at later stages than most other positions, we may see this 28 year-old being discussed with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets as the best DMF in the league.

10. Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)

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    Xabi has been the most consistent midfielder for Real this season and has had to overcome a lot of adversity in the midfield.

    Xabi has had to lead no less than six different midfielders throughout the year and is the only player that is seemingly irreplaceable for Jose Mourinho—along with Ronaldo of course.

    Despite being one of the most consistent players in Europe, Alonso is one of Madrid's most underrated players.

    This season he led a Real counter attack that was the best and most efficient in Europe. He averaged 78 passes per game, completing just over 88 percent of them.

    He had a career high in assists with nine. Nuri Sahin was bought last summer in order to slowly start replacing Xabi, but he may be waiting longer than expected given Alonso's form this season.

    The 30 year-old is playing some of his best football ever as he enters his 30s.

9. Xavi (Barcelona)

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    He may have lost a bit of stamina, but Xavi is having the best statistical season of his career with 10 goals.

    He scored those 10 goals with only 16 shots on target. He averaged a goal every 1.6 shots on target, the best figure of any midfielder this season. Xavi also led the league in goals per shot, scoring one every 3.6 shots.

    The Catalan pass master once again had the highest passing percentage of any player in Europe—92.4 percent as well as the most passes per game—93.8.

    His six assists may seem low, but we have to take the nature of Barcelona's game into account.

    With Pep Guardiola employing only three defenders for most of the season, Xavi has had to play deeper in midfield and has not been quite as active in the attack.

    The expanded tactic by Pep makes the fact that Xavi still has 10 goals even more impressive.

    Chances are that Xavi will not be starting as much next season, but he showed this campaign that he is still capable of playing at an elite level.

8. Diego (Atletico Madrid)

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    Diego was just one of many fantastic moves made by Atletico Madrid last summer.

    By bringing Diego on loan from Wolfsburg, Los Rojiblancos found the play-maker they needed to compliment their other two big signings.

    The Brazilian maestro was third in goals and fourth in assists this season. He helped lead Atletico to a top six finish and brought them within one win of the Champions League.

    His 2.5 key passes per game were second-best in La Liga. He also averaged as many accurate crosses per game as Mesut Ozil—1.3.

    If Atletico are to build on their success from this season, they will hope to sign Diego this summer. Wolfsburg will likely make that very difficult.

    If Atletico should fail to sign him, the next man on this list would be a potential alternative.

7. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

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    Behind Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets was the most important Barcelona player this season. La Blaugrana are simply another team without him on the pitch.

    Pep Guardiola nearly completed his shift to a 3-4-3 formation and Sergio is the main reason for that. Everything goes through him. It is a good thing he completed 91.5 percent of his passes.

    His best attributes may not show up on stat sheets, but his vision, awareness, positioning and ability to create space make him one of Europe's elite midfielders.

    Playing next to Xavi and Iniesta can cause many people to overlook Sergio. Playing as a defensive midfielder tends to make one undervalued anyway.

    But anyone who closely followed Barcelona this season saw that Busquets is an indispensable as any other player on the squad bar Lionel Messi.

    His value to the club has been immense this season. Messi will win the awards, but Sergio was the unsung hero for Barcelona.

6. Jesus Navas (Sevilla)

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    Quite simply, Jesus Navas is one of the best, yet least praised players in Europe.

    Navas is one of the best crosses and passers in football, able to read any defense and wreak havoc on the best fullbacks in the world.

    This season, Navas had 12 assists. That was the fourth most in La Liga and the best of any player outside Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    Those 12 assists were also on par with Franck Ribery and Juan Mata. It is better than Xavi, Iniesta, Nani, Robben and countless others.

    No offense to Negredo, but imagine if Navas was passing to Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba or Mario Gomez. How much better would his numbers then look by comparison? 

    Even without the elite finishers, Navas still averaged more accurate crosses per game—2.2—than any player in Spain or any other Spanish player in Europe.

    He may go under-appreciated outside of La Liga, but fans of Spanish football recognize that one of the world's best talents plays in Sevilla.

5. Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)

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    Ozil has silenced many critics who questioned whether or not he could ever reach his lofty potential.

    The German national finally showed that he can step up his game against rivals Barcelona. That had been one of his biggest critiques before this season.

    Ozil led the league in assists this season with 17. That was the most of any player in Europe.

    Aside from low stamina, this 23 year-old has virtually no weakness as an attacking midfielder. He is creative, a stellar passer, has incredible vision and is a world-class passer.

    Mesut Ozil finally learned to perform consistently and has developed into one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe.

    If he had more intelligent, creative players around him he'd be even better. There aren't players in that mold in Real Madrid, but fortunately that did not slow him down this season.

4. Falcao (Atletico Madrid)

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    Apparently Atletico Madrid lost its two best forwards last summer. You may not have noticed because Falcao nearly matched the goal tally of both players of the pair single-handedly.

    The fact that those two players were Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, two of the best strikers in Spain over the last decade, speaks volumes.

    Falcao's 24 league goals is just five less than Aguero and Forlan managed last season combined!

    Falcao was one of the best signings of the season in La Liga and even all of Europe. Atletico was wise to make the Colombian their most expensive transfer ever.

    Atletico Madrid paid as much for Falcao as Liverpool did for Andy Carroll. I think we all know which trade was actually worth the money.

3. Santi Cazorla (Malaga)

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    If Falcao is not the signing of the season in La Liga, it is because of Santi Cazorla. Santi has been La Liga's best midfielder this season. 

    He is one of the main reasons Malaga finished in the top four this season. He is the leader of one of Spain's best midfields and is the player Sheikh Abdullah will build his team around.

    His absence at Villarreal shows how valuable he was to the Yellow Submarine. The loss of Giuseppe Rossi has hurt Villarreal's attack, but the entire team is weaker without Cazorla.

    He has scored more goals from distance this season than any other player in the league—8. Click here to see one of his most opportune golazos.

    Playing at Malaga has caused him to be a bit underrated when compared to the likes of Iniesta or Ozil, but it also allows those who watch him to be that much more impressed.

    Santi has a real chance to become a club legend if Malaga continues to grow in the upcoming seasons.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

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    Now we see what Cristiano Ronaldo in his prime is capable of. We are watching arguably the best player of his generation playing his best football.

    CR7 led his team to their first La Liga title under Jose Mourinho, and came within a penalty shootout for reaching the Champions League final.

    This season Ronaldo has proven that he is probably as unstoppable as any player in the history of football. Statistically speaking, CR7 had the best season of his career.

    Let me see if I can cover the highlights of his record-breaking season.

    -He was the main weapon in the most prolific trio in football history.
    -He became the first player in league history to score against all 19 teams in a single season.
    -He broke his own club and league record for most goals in a season with 46.
    -He tied the all-time club and league record for most penalties in a single season with 12.
    -He was the first player in league history to score in 27 different matches.
    -He is one of only two players to have more than 10 goals and assists—the other being Messi, of course.

    In any other season in any other league, Ronaldo would have had arguably the greatest single individual season in history.

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

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    The battle for label of best player in the world is not something that will soon be settled, but this season belonged to Lionel Messi—statistically speaking.

    Messi now holds the record for most goals in a season—50—and most hat tricks in a season—8. His European records are even more impressive, but that is not relevant for this list.

    His goals per game ratio was 1.35, the best in La Liga. Ronaldo was just behind at 1.21. In all competitions, Messi's goals per game ratio was 1.22, Ronaldo's 1.09.

    In addition to setting a new La Liga goal-scoring record, Messi also finished with 16 assists, second only to Mesut Ozil.

    Those 16 assists came when Barcelona's third and fourth best scorers were midfielders. They came in a season where no other forward started more than 20 games.

    Messi's 1.5 through balls per game were the best in La Liga and more than double the next best player in Spain, England, or France.

    His 2.5 key passes per game were second only to Ozil. He was also the most successful dribbler this season, averaging 4.8 successful dribbles per game.

    While those stats are impressive, his value to the club cannot be measured. Messi was responsible for more than half of Barcelona's goals. 

    Considering that he lost the next four of his fellow forwards for significant portions of the season, his ability to carry such a great load is incredible.

Messi vs. Ronaldo

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    Messi vs. Ronaldo—a debate that will likely never be unanimously settled. Everyone has their opinion and there are points in favor of both players.

    Many will argue that Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the No. 1 spot because of his team trophies, and they would not be wrong.

    He was arguably the best player in La Liga last season and many think he was robbed of the award. This season, Messi carried his team more and had the slightly better numbers, but Ronaldo was just as deserving.

    The one thing that should be agreed upon by all fans of either side is that we are very fortunate to have watched these two greats this season. They were just simply on another level.

    Looking back at this year, I can only thank both Messi and Ronaldo for giving us the best statistical season in the history of Spanish football. Chances are we will never see two players have a season like this again.

    In fact, people should appreciate the continuing battle between Messi and Ronaldo as it reaches the upper echelon of one of football's greatest rivalries in history.