La Liga's Most Underrated XI

Michael CernaCorrespondent INovember 1, 2012

La Liga's Most Underrated XI

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    La Liga currently sits atop the UEFA Coefficients ahead of England's Premier League. Spanish teams have won seven of the last 14 European titles.

    And yet, the vast majority of players outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid remain continually underrated by the mass public.

    Players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Juan Mata, and Santi Cazorla were world class players during their spells in Spain's Primera Division, but were not widely regarded as such until they moved to England.

    Of course, when the big two in Spain are so dominant over the rest of the league, it is hard to blame fans for not appreciating other great players.

    When these superstars aren't even being watched by many fans of those two giant clubs, how can fans of other leagues be expected to fully respect these underrated guys.

    While Barcelona and Real Madrid have far more elite players than any other team, the league still has plenty of great, even world class players. They are simply harder to appreciate because of who they play for.

    The following list gives us some of the most underrated players in Spain. Some of these guys are already world class while others are simply much better than they get credit for.

    The purpose of this piece is not just to expose the greatness of these players to fans of other leagues, but even La Liga fans who mostly watch Real Madrid and/or Barcelona.

    After reading the list, please comment below and let us know who you think is too underrated in La Liga.

     

    Note: All stats taken from WhoScored.com.

Willy Caballero—K

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    Willy Caballero's first chance of first-division Spanish football was not exactly the stuff of dreams.

    He was signed by Malaga on an emergency transfer not because he was rated highly, but because the two keepers on the team were injured.

    The club was fighting relegation and it seemed that the Argentinian would be back in Segunda within a few months.

    No one could have expected the transfer to be so impactful for Malaga and their new keeper. Almost immediately, Caballero proved to be one of their best signings ever.

    The now 31-year-old helped the Andalusian club avoid relegation before breaking a club record by going 480 minutes without conceding a goal.

    Now this season, Caballero has taken his play to another level. He leads all of Spain in save percentage, clean sheets and goals allowed.

    He has also yet to concede a single goal in the Champions League this season. No other keeper in football can say the same.

Cicinho—RB

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    He has the defensive strength of Sergio Ramos with only a bit less attacking prowess than Dani Alves.

    Cicinho is not only the third great right back to play for Sevilla in the last decade, he is the best right back in La Liga right now and this season.

    Since coming to Spain, the Brazilian full-back has been nothing short of world class. He shut down Cristiano Ronaldo in his team's biggest win of the season and was equally effective against Barcelona.

    Rarely do you find a full-back in today's game that can aid so much in attack without exposing himself at the back, but Cicinho does just that.

    He has been one of the very best at his position in all of Europe this season.

    Hopefully the two Spanish giants—and the rest of Europe, for that matter—will keep their hands off this one.

Geromel—CB

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    How does Joaquin Caparros continue to do this every season?

    Just like Chico last year, Mallorca's great coach has managed to grab another defensive gem on loan, this time in Geromel.

    The Brazilian is consistently solid and consistently overlooked. He has great discipline, tackling, reading, and blocking.

    Four years ago he was voted the best player in Portugal's first division before moving on to Koln and impressing in Germany.

    Now the 27-year-old is leading a makeshift defense that has been wrecked by injuries and has been one of the top defenders in Spain.

Aythami—CB

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    Is it just a coincidence that Deportivo have given up over three goals a game and have yet to register a win since Aythami's last start? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    The 26-year-old is far from world class, but is still a solid defender who is reliable and always plays at a high, if not top class level.

    The Spaniard played a key role in earning Xerez their first-ever promotion to the first division and is now trying to lead Depor's defensive fight to stay in La Liga.

Filipe Luis—LB

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    While Barcelona and Real Madrid fans argue about whether Marcelo or Jordi Alba is the best left-back in the league, they are missing out on the man who is arguably better than both.

    Filipe Luis does not have quite the same link-up ability as his national teammate, but he also does not have Cristiano Ronaldo on his flank and is a better passer so perhaps that is untrue.

    He also may not have the same ability to bomb forward and attack the goal that Alba does, but he certainly takes care of his flank much better than the Barcelona man.

    In fact, Alba is not quite the superior attacking force that some say he is. Luis averages more successful crosses, key passes, dribbles, and shots per game while also getting dispossessed less.

    Luis is the most complete left back in the league and is a world class full-back. Any team would be fortunate to have him.

Ignacio Camacho—DM

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    Last season Jeremy Toulalan was the most effective defensive midfielder in Spain when fully fit. His value to Malaga was second only to Santi Cazorla.

    When the Frenchman went down again early this season, it looked like the final nail in the coffin that would be Los Boquerones' season after the fire sale of last summer.

    However, quite the opposite happened. Malaga has lost only one game all season and is the stingiest team in La Liga and the Champions League to this point.

    The biggest reason has been Ignacio Camacho. Isco is drawing interest from foreign giants, but it is his defensive midfielder that has been the best midfielder on the team.

    Hulk, Iker Muniain, Stephan El Shaarawy, and even Falcao have struggled to break the wall that Camacho has built this season.

    He is only 22 years old, but already looks like the next great Spanish midfielder on the verge of a breakout season.

    Javi Martinez may have more competition in his bid to partner Sergio Busquets sooner than it seems.

Javi Fuego—DM

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    This season Premier League have gotten to see just how good Michu is after the center forward took La Liga by storm the year before.

    As great as Michu was last season, it was his teammate Javi Fuego who was far more influential and important to keeping Rayo Vallecano in the first division.

    Fuego had the most interceptions per game in all of Europe last season, with an absolutely insane 7.1 per match. No one outside of La Liga even averaged five interceptions per game.

    He is also a world class tackler. Bleacher Report's Allan Jiang said Fuego was the best tackler he had seen since Claude Makele.

    There may not be a greater compliment to bestow upon the midfielder than that.

Patrick Ebert—AM

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    Coming into the season, it was widely thought that Deportivo would be the newly promoted team most prepared for success while Valladolid would battle relegation all year long.

    Yet it is the Castilian club that has been in and out of Europa League contention this season. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is the two attacking midfielders Oscar and Patrick Ebert.

    Bundesliga fans will be familiar with the latter. He is sort of the German version of Mikel Arteta in that he has yet to be capped by the national team despite some impressive displays.

    Of course, Ebert is younger and more offensive-minded, but the amount of talent being chosen ahead of him is close to the level Arteta has yet to break through for La Roja.

    The 25-year-old was a part of Hertha's team that almost won a title three years ago. Unfortunately, the attacking midfielder has suffered numerous injuries over the last five years.

    Now that he is fit, we are being reminded of just how great a footballer the German really is.

    He has been one of the most accurate crosser in the league this season, has good vision and communication, and has looked right at home in La Liga's technically gifted play most of the season.

    Valladolid have a great chance of staying up with Patrick Ebert and Oscar leading the charge.

Arda Turan—AM

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    There might not be a more complete midfielder in all of Spain than Arda Turan. The Atletico midfielder can do it all and can play almost anywhere.

    He is fabulous wide man who gives his coach the option to utilize a winger. He can and does take the playmaker role and excels there.

    The Turk is a fantastic passer and is a goal threat, especially from distance. He has phenomenal footwork and incredible dribbling ability.

    But what makes him most exceptional as a player, what makes him elite, is the defensive side of his game.

    As dangerous as he is with the ball at his feet, Turan is perhaps more hard-working off the ball. He is a great tackler, very disciplined, and has tremendous vision and awareness.

    The only thing stopping him from being more widely recognized as a world class midfielder is the jersey on his back.

    Thankfully, more people are wising up to Atleti's No. 10. Chelsea were giving a first-hand education in the UEFA Super Cup and they will not be the last to experience that.

Iago Aspas—CF

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    At this point I've lost all shame talking Aspas up so much.

    Last year I said he was too good for the second division. Before the season I said he was a breakout player of the year candidate.

    He has become a regular on my Weekly and Monthly Starting XI series. Allan Jiang ranked him among the most underrated players in all of football.

    Why does he deserve recognition? So far the Galician has created more scoring chances than anyone else in Spain.

    Just think about the great playmakers in La Liga. Messi, Ozil, Fabregas, Isco, Turan, Iniesta. Imagine if Aspas had the teammates to finish his chances that those players have.

Ruben Castro

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    As is the case with many players on this list, the main reason Castro is so underrated is simply because people have not seen him play.

    Castro was always one of the most dangerous players in Spain's second division, but viewers simply aren't drawn to those games.

    However, since arriving on the national scene, the 31-year-old has been one of the best strikers in La Liga.

    Last season the Spaniard finished with 16 goals and was better than many national teammates including Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Michu.

    Castro has great link-up play, is an accurate and quick passer, and is deadly on the counter with his excellent positioning, quickness and awareness.

    It's a real shame that most of his prime years were spent outside of the Primera Division.

Bench

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    Dede Aouate (Mallorca)
    The Israeli has long been one of La Liga's top keepers despite having a different defense almost yearly.

    Nacho Monreal (Malaga)
    Just like Filipe Luis, Malaga's left-back is more complete than the big two and maintains a high level consistently.

    Marc Valiente (Valladolid)
    The center-back has been immense for the Castilians all season and will play a big role as the season progresses and tougher attacking sides are faced.

    Mario Suarez (Atletico Madrid)
    Atletico now have perhaps the best defensive midfield pairing in the league and finally found their perfect second option alongside Gabi.

    Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)
    The youngster is finally starting to mature and it shows on his defensive work, discipline, and decreased selfishness on the pitch.

    Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla)
    Great partnership with Modric. Is on the level of David Silva and Juan Mata in terms of key passes and chances created.

    Tomer Hemed (Mallorca)
    This looks to be the Israeli striker's breakout campaign as he has been one of the best finishers in Spain thus far.