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Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Falcao Lead La Liga's Team of the Week

Michael CernaCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2012

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Falcao Lead La Liga's Team of the Week

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    Mid-December could very well prove to be the pivotal moment for many of La Liga's traditional powers this season.

    Barcelona may have just wrapped up La Liga in December after beating Atletico Madrid, who themselves finished one win shy of their greatest start in history.

    Real Madrid probably lost the title after dropping more points, this time to Espanyol. They've now dropped more in four months than they did all of last season.

    Valencia failed to get a result against Rayo Vallecano and now sit 12 points out of third place, with any Champions League qualification looking difficult to attain.

    The current La Liga tables could not look much more different than the way they finished in May, but that is what makes Spanish football so great, after all.

    Let's review some of the top individual performances of the weekend by recognizing some of the best players from Matchday 16.

     

    Note: Stats taken from WhoScored.com.

Kiko Casilla, Espanyol (Keeper)

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    Kiko Casilla made his first start for Espanyol this season and was given the immeasurably tough task of defending against the reigning champions of Spain with no experience.

    The 26-year-old was tested all night against Real Madrid but allowed only two shots in and kept Los Periquitos in the match throughout.

    If not for some great saves from Casilla, his former club could have turned this into a rout early on.

Adriano, Barcelona (Right-Back)

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    It was billed as a battle between Radamel Falcao and Lionel Messi, but it was a full-back who outshone both of those superstars with a Man-of-the-Match performance against Barcelona.

    Barcelona's great utility man proved vital at both ends of the pitch, but it was his stunning golazo that shifted momentum away fro Atleti and even seemed to stun the visitors after Falcao had just silenced Camp Nou.

    The Brazilian's goal—a candidate for goal of the year—was his fifth of the season, drawing him equal to the likes of Karim Benzema and David Villa.

    The full-back was also excellent at the back and was only slowed by a thigh injury that forced him off the pitch.

Martin Demichelis, Malaga (Centre-Back)

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    Martin Demichelis put in what has become a typically stout performance, against Sevilla as he kept the likes of Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas without a goal.

    His Malaga defense has now allowed just 10 goals in 16 games and held another clean sheet this weekend.

    The veteran Argentinian was the anchor at the back and also opened the scoring with what turned out to be the winning goal for Los Boquerones.

    Superb effort.

Alex Galvez, Rayo Vallecano (Centre-Back)

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    Yet another summer addition has a big game for Rayo Vallecano, and Sporting Gijon must be missing their former defender these days.

    Alex Galvez put in a top performance this week that saw him shut Jonas and Roberto Soldado down while preventing the latter from letting off a single shot.

    Galvez not only prevented from Soldado from shooting, he stripped Jonas of the ball twice in dangerous areas.

    It was a tough effort that kept his team above mid-table for at least another week.

Fabio Coentrao, Real Madrid (Left-Back)

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    When Madrid paid €30 million for Fabio Coentrao, this is the type of game they expected him to play.

    Against Espanyol, the Portuguese international looked like the balanced, complete left-back he has rarely demonstrated at the club level.

    He scored the goal that put Los Merengues ahead and made two tackles that probably saved goals.

    The 24-year-old was Madrid's best player for most of the match and put in a top performance in attack and in defense.

Sergio Busquets, Barcelona (Defensive Midfielder)

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    Barcelona's second most valuable player over the last season-and-a-half was the unlikely hero against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

    Sergio Busquets scored what proved to be the winning goal with some great poise in front of a congested net, but his work in midfield is what really set him apart.

    His positioning was perfect all night, his passing precise and his reading of the game clinical.

    The only blight on his near-perfect night came from Atleti's lone goal. But being outrun by Radamel Falcao on a lofted ball is something no defensive midfielder can be ashamed of.

Ander Herrera, Athletic Bilbao (Midfielder)

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    I admit that I've been one of Ander's biggest critics over the last 18 months, but his growth into one of the top central midfielders in Spain deserves better recognition.

    The 23-year-old put in another great performance against Mallorca that brought comparisons to both Xavi and Xabi Alonso.

    Ander amassed over 100 touches for the second time in three matches, and he completed eight of his nine long balls.

    That latter completion rate is just insane and is a testament not only to his growth as a passer but his confidence in this deep role, as well.

Andres Iniesta, Barcelona (Midfielder)

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    And to think, this was a comparably lesser performance from Iniesta. Of course, that is compared to Don Andres' own high standard.

    Iniesta registered a generous assist against Atletico. But his biggest impact came in less threatening positions where he did not really target a goal or assist.

    Throughout the night, the midfielder caused loads of problems for Atletico, forcing them to foul him either to stop him and Messi from getting into position to score or just to get the ball back after being dispossessed.

    He may not have been directing goal-scoring chances—although 113 touches is certainly nothing to scoff at—but he was as frustrating a player as any on the pitch for Los Colchoneros.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid (Forward)

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    Real Madrid dropped another two points that might have ended the title race already, but Cristiano Ronaldo deserves little to no blame for the draw.

    The Portuguese gave a class performance with a fine goal and a finer pass to set up Fabio Coentrao to give Los Merengues the lead.

    This match continued to highlight Ronaldo's inconsistent play this season.

    Unfortunately for Madrid, this time CR7's high was met with lows from many of his teammates, specifically at the back.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona (Forward)

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    Much like partner Iniesta, Lionel Messi similarly did not have a characteristically elite game.

    Of course, the fact that scoring two goals is considered less than impressive in any way just speaks to how historically otherworldly Messi has been this season.

    La Pulga was gifted his second goal—making that his sixth straight game with a brace—but his first was of pure skill and peerless control.

    After receiving the ball at the top of the box, the Argentinian danced around Atleti's defender, moved into just enough space to score and sent an unstoppable shot past Thibaut Courtois.

    He may not have been at his incomparable best, but Messi does have to remind us that he is human every now and then, I suppose.

Falcao, Atletico Madrid (Forward)

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    It may have taken Cristiano Ronaldo almost two years to score against Barcelona, but Radamel Falcao has shown none of the big-game growing pains in La Liga.

    The Colombian opened the scoring in the weekend's biggest match with a fantastic left-footed chip over Victor Valdes and was far more dangerous than many thought he would be with Barcelona's possession game.

    Atleti's No. 9 was inches away from heading home the opener early on, but the post proved his enemy. He later out-muscled Carles Puyol after some opportunistic play from Koke, but his first touch let him down in the end.

    Falcao finished with one goal but came less than a combined foot away from a hat-trick in the first half.

    While the loss of Filipe Luis and the slow decline of Atleti's midfield pressing saw him struggle to get involved after the break, Falcao once again proved that the biggest stages are his to shine on.

Subs

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    Gorka Iraizoz, Athletic Bilbao (Keeper)

    Almost single-handedly killed Mallorca's spirits and had to work a bit harder than expected.

     

    Carlos Martinez, Real Sociedad (Defender)

    Last week's dramatic game-tying winner wasn't enough for the right-back as he put in his third top-honors match in four games.

     

    Jon Aurtenetxe, Athletic Bilbao (Defender)

    Looked more a veteran leader than a youngster playing out of his natural position. Now let's see him do it consistently against better teams.


    Pape Diop, Levante (Defensive Midfielder)

    I'm not sure what happened to him over the last few months, but Diop continues to become one of the most efficient readers and stoppers in the league.

     

    Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid (Midfielder)

    The German was only just denied a great assist to Ronaldo and a fine goal of his own, but it was not to be. He still needs to get more involved, this time getting over 20 touches fewer than his left-back.

     

    Kike Sola, Osasuna (Forward)

    The striker's late goal probably should have been the winner, but he was arguably robbed of his night by a poor penalty call.

     

    Sergio Garcia, Espanyol (Forward)

    Juan Albin's goal is the one that will be remembered most, but Garcia is the one who silenced the Santiago Bernabeu and gave Espanyol enough hope to think a win was possible.

     

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