Ranking the Top 10 Strikers in La Liga
In continuing Bleacher Report's positional rankings of Spain's first division, let's take a look at the best finishers in La Liga. I previously ranked the top 10 wingers in Liga BBVA.
Over the past few seasons, La Liga has lost some of its greatest strikers from the past decade. Sergio Aguero, Frederic Kanoute, Fernando Torres, Luis Fabiano and Diego Forlan have all moved on to other teams.
Yet, despite that drain of talent, Spain still houses many of Europe's elite finishers.
Some play more as center-forwards, others as second strikers or even attacking midfielders behind the target man. While a few players are difficult to label as a traditional striker, that is the best categorization for these guys.
Let's take a look at the top-10 strikers in Spain.
Note: The goals-per-game stat only includes La Liga appearances from the last five seasons—beginning with the 2008-2009 campaign—to keep the numbers more comparable.
Tomer Hemed (Mallorca)—It is just a bit too soon to put him top 10 in the league, even after such a fantastic start this season.
Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)—I think a second solid season would make him worthy of this list, but more is still expected from the Mexican.
Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)—He is finally getting consistent time up front and it is paying off for both parties. This could be a breakout year for the Brazilian.
Javier Saviola (Malaga)—He looks to be past his prime, but is already playing a huge role in Andalusia.
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)—The Basque star is talented, but will continue to be a backup in his 30s.
Adrian (Atletico Madrid)—The Spaniard followed up a strong La Liga campaign with a disappointing showing at the Olympics this summer. Let's see what happens this term.
Goals per Game: 0.3
It is getting harder and harder to classify Jonas as a striker, but history and talent are both on his side.
The 28-year-old was Serie A's top scorer in his last season with Gremio and that earned him a move to La Liga's third-best club.
He is primarily used as an attacking midfielder or second striker these days, but the Brazilian can still take Roberto Soldado's place up top. It could even be argued that he is the more well-rounded forward.
Jonas is the better free-kick taker, is more dangerous in the air and is obviously more versatile. He can be deployed as a lone striker and has the awareness and passing ability to link up from anywhere on the final third.
9. Ruben Castro
Team: Real Betis
Goals per Game: 0.48
Fans who do not watch Segunda B very often were quite surprised with Betis' top striker last season.
The now 31-year-old came out of nowhere for many fans to score 16 goals in his first full season back in the first division.
He had his big coming-out party against Barcelona in the final match of last season when his brace ended Pep Guadiola's reign with a draw.
The Spaniard is one of La Liga's best finishers. It is a bit of a shame that he has not gotten more time at a top-flight club because Castro is a very clinical finisher who has long been worthy of more recognition.
8. Alvaro Negredo
Goals per Game: 0.47
Negredo is a bit of a frustrating player. At times, he can score absolutely beautiful goals that make him seem like one of the elite strikers in Europe. Other times, he can go missing for matches at a time and fails to have much impact on the game.
Talent has never been a problem for the Castilian. Consistency has.
The 6' 1" forward never really has a 'bad' game, but too rarely does he reach that elite level that is expected from such a strong and gifted player.
Over the last five seasons, the Sevilla star has played at a higher level than Fernando Torres, the man who consistently takes his place in the national squad. This with the absence of elite talent surrounding him—bar Jesus Navas.
Negredo is a lot more agile than he looks, is solid in the air and can be clinical in front of goal, but he needs to be more dependable from week to week and do more for his providers.
7. Fernando Llorente
Team: Athletic Bilbao
Goals per Game: 0.45
Europe's biggest clubs are waiting to feast on Bilbao's striker next summer now that a contract renewal looks unlikely.
That's understandable given how incredible El Rey Leon has been over the last five years in Spain. The great Basque forward has been one of the league's most consistently great strikers in recent seasons.
The 6' 5" forward is not the most agile and he is not going to dance around defenses with quick feet, but not everyone is built like Lionel Messi with such a low center of gravity.
He is a true finisher and can hurt you in many ways. You will struggle to find a more dangerous target man in the air.
Llorente has become a more diverse attacker under Marcelo Bielsa and has also become a better passer, linking up well with Iker Munian and Mikel Susaeta as they have formed one of the most exciting attacking trios in Spain.
6. Roberto Soldado
La Liga Goals per Game: 0.51
Valencia's No. 9 is a great finisher with excellent positional awareness who excels in one-on-one situations.
After spending most of his career in Madrid with Real and Getafe, El Pistolero returned to his hometown in 2010 with the goal of replacing the great David Villa.
The Spaniard did a decent job by netting 17 goals in his first season and has continued to play at a high level ever since.
Soldado has long been one of Spain's best strikers, but still has not scored 20 goals in a season. He always hovers just shy of the mark, but ends up just short.
Is this the year he breaks it?
5. David Villa
Goals per Game: 0.63
He may be 30 years old and only just getting back from a bad leg injury, but David Villa is still one of the top strikers in European football.
El Guaje has been one of La Liga's elite strikers for almost a decade now. He was the main attacking force behind Valencia's great team of the 2000s and is now the second-best scorer for Barcelona.
He is not the best option on this list for a team trying to buy for the future, but if being rated on recent ability, Villa is still one of the league's elite finishers.
He has a great eye for goals, can use both feet interchangeably, has incredible touch, good footwork and has become an unselfish, quick passer in recent years.
Spain's all-time top scorer is a long-time favorite of fans throughout the country and will go down as one of the greatest strikers of his generation.
4. Karim Benzema
Team: Real Madrid
Goals per Game: 0.45
Jose Mourinho is one of the luckiest managers in all of football. He has not one 24-year-old striker who has yet to enter his prime, but two.
Deciding which striker is better depends a lot on current form and the person.
If you ask 10 Madridistas, the winner will not have more than six votes. Furthermore, the answer changes almost weekly.
Last season, Benz was the more favored choice of Jose Mourinho and had the best season of his career with 21 goals.
The Frenchman proved to be one of the more balanced strikers in the league. He has not gotten to top form yet this season, but it is only a matter of time.
Benzema works well with his teammates and has great awareness up front, understanding well how to work with Ronaldo, even understanding when to swap places and play a deeper role.
3. Gonzalo Higuain
Team: Real Madrid
Goals per Game: 0.69
Like I said, Madridistas change their minds almost weekly about their two star strikers. Right now the recent wastefulness of Higuain causes many to prefer Benzema.
In reality, they should just be grateful to have two extremely gifted strikers to choose from. Any calls for one or the other to be sold seems a bit short-sighted given how few better options there are available.
It seems like Higuain has been around forever, but he will only just turn 25 this season. The Argentinian is one of the longest-standing players at the club since arriving from River Plate during Fabio Capello's reign.
Last season he was the second option behind Karim Benzema, but still managed to score more goals and an equal number of assists.
His recent struggles in front of goal frustrates fans, but they should keep in mind that Higuain is a 25-goal threat who has yet to enter his prime.
A little patience could prevent years of regret caused by the premature sale of the striker.
Team: Atletico Madrid
Goals per Game: 0.77
When Falcao came over from Porto, many Primeira Liga fans said Atletico Madrid were getting one of the five best strikers in football.
Most people laughed it off. 'He has never even played in England or a big European league.'' they said.
I wonder what those same people are saying now. Probably something along the lines of "Please come to my favorite club right now!'
El Tigre is arguably the most complete forward in the game. He can shoot from distance, is a great header and can score with either foot.
The Colombian has scored five goals in two finals over the last six months, all with his off foot.
He may not play in the Premier League or for one of Spain's two biggest clubs, but Radamel Falcao is the best No. 9 in football.
1. Lionel Messi
Goals per Game: 1.03
I admit, it is hard to even classify Messi as an out-and-out striker. But that is the most accurate classification we can make for the reigning Ballo d'Or winner.
Barcelona deploys him as a false nine. Argentina uses him in a deeper role where he directs play and is not expected to be the primary goal-scorer.
La Pulga is considered by many to be the greatest player alive and some already compare him to footballing greats of years past.
He is the all-time single-season goal-scorer in Spain and Europe and almost broke the record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign last season.
It is crazy to think that he is still only 25 years old, considering how long he has dominated the current crop of players.
Now only is he the best finisher in football alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, he is also one of the elite creators and play-makers in the world.
If he were to retire right now, he would understandably be considered one of the all-time greats even without a World Cup title. Who even knows what his legacy will be when he hangs up his boots.