Picking a La Liga Team of the Season: Without Barcelona or Real Madrid
The La Liga season comes to a close this weekend with the major honours having already been divided and the subsequent fallout having already begun.
Barcelona, with 111 goals scored and (assuming they win their final game of the season against Malaga) 100 points have claimed the league title with relative ease, leaving Real Madrid trailing in their wake.
Real Madrid's glory-less season was compounded by their surprise Copa del Rey defeat to city rivals Atletico Madrid, who also finished in third. Jose Mourinho's tenure with Los Merengues has subsequently been brought to an end.
Real Sociedad have enjoyed a tremendous campaign full of vibrant, attacking football under Philippe Montanier and go into the last day with European football guaranteed. Whether Montanier, departing in the summer to take charge of Ligue 1 side Rennes, guides them into the Champions League, however, depends on Valencia's final day result at Sevilla.
At the other end, the three relegation places all go down to the wire, with three from Deportivo La Coruna, Celta Vigo, Real Zaragoza and Mallorca set to depart. Each has a winnable home game, though none are in particularly good form.
With all that being said, now is the time to pick the La Liga team of 2012/13, albeit with a twist.
To save the eternal arguing, I'm choosing to do so without the Barcelona and Real Madrid players.
Why? Because unfortunately, the two are so far in advance of everyone else they would be overly prominent in such an XI. And quite frankly, La Liga teams have been done to death with those two sets of players taking up 9/10 spots.
Therefore, here's a look at the best of the rest: A 2012-13 La Liga team of the season without Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Firstly, a quick look at those who can consider themselves unlucky not to have been included in the starting XI:
Willy Caballero (Malaga)
The former Elche stopper has had a fine season between the sticks for Manuel Pellegrini's side, keeping 13 clean sheets and producing a number of genuine match-winning performances.
Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
The Brazilian defender has proven a formidable opponent for wide men once again, but was just edged out by what may well appear a surprise choice.
Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao)
Whilst Marcelo Bielsa's side haven't hit the heights of the previous campaign's thrilling football, one constant has been the form of Ander at the heart of their midfield.
Patrick Ebert (Real Valladolid)
The German winger has enjoyed a solid debut season in Spain, weighing in with six goals, seven assists and a number of key performances.
Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla)
The Croatian has grown and become a vital component in the Sevilla midfield this season, particularly since the arrival of Unai Emery. Eight goals and nine assists is a solid return for the playmaker.
Pizzi (Deportivo La Coruna)
The Portuguese winger has been a constant bright spot in a season of struggle for Deportivo and has played his part in their relegation fight with eight goals and six assists.
Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
Another strong season for the striker with 22 goals in 34 matches, he's been a vital part of Valencia's rise up the table in the second half of the campaign.
GK: Thibault Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
The 21-year-old Belgian international has enjoyed another excellent season at the Vicente Calderon.
Providing superb reflexes, a calm, composed presence and a complete command of his penalty area, he has proven vital to Diego Simeone's men as they have conceded a league-low 30 goals this season.
Additionally, the on-loan Chelsea stopper has 18 clean sheets to his name, making him the winner of the league's "Golden Glove" award.
However, that hasn't been an end to his brilliance. He has also broken two of Abel Resino's 22-year-old club records this season: Courtois recently went 681 minutes without conceding a league goal away from home, having earlier in the campaign been unbeaten for 819 minutes at the Calderon.
RB: Carlos Martinez (Real Sociedad)
The 27-year-old defender has enjoyed an excellent season as part of an entertaining Sociedad side.
The powerful full-back found himself out of La Real's starting XI at the start of the campaign, during which time they lost five of their opening eight matches. However, since his return to the line up, they've been beaten just three times in 27 matches—form which has seen them battle for a Champions League spot.
Rarely caught out of position, averaging 3.2 interceptions and 4.2 clearances per game according to Whoscored, he's been one of the divisions most consistent defenders.
Additionally, he's also shown decent attacking traits throughout the season and has four assists to his name.
CB: Martin Demichelis (Malaga)
A key component in Manuel Pellegrini's defence, the Argentine centre-back has been a dependable and immense presence at the heart of the Malaga backline.
Dominant in the air and superb in the timing of his tackles, the vastly experienced 32-year-old has been consistently excellent for a Malaga side that have conceded only 46 goals and kept 13 clean sheets this season.
Averaging 6.3 clearances per match, he has formed a solid, no-nonsense partnership with Weligton, whilst lending a hand at the other end, scoring four goals himself.
With change afoot in Malaga this summer, whether Demichelis remains at La Rosaleda next season remains to be seen. If he does depart, he will not be easily be replaced.
CB: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
The Uruguayan defender has been a massive part of Atletico's defensive strength this season, a major reason for their excellent record.
Strong in the air and composed in the heat of battle, Godin has emerged as a defensive leader for Diego Simeone's men. His ability to read danger and nullify threats before they materialise have led to his place amongst Spain's best defenders in 2012-13.
Seemingly always in the right place at the right time—averaging 8.3 clearances per game over the course of the season—his partnership with Brazilian Miranda has kept Thibault Courtois well protected.
Only 30 goals have been conceded by Atletico in La Liga and Godin has been a major reason for that feat.
LB: Damia (Osasuna)
Solid if unspectacular, Damia has been a consistently strong presence in Pamplona, despite the relative struggles of his club.
Under Jose Mendilibar, Osasuna sit 15th in La Liga, but that is down to their lack of attacking prowess rather than any defensive frailties they may have.
Indeed, they possess the joint-third best defensive record in La Liga, having conceded just 46 goals and the Barcelona youth product has been a key component in their sturdy defence.
Though he has picked up 15 bookings in his 29 matches this season, the no-nonsense full-back has proven vital to his side's defensive resistance, winning 2.8 tackles and making six clearances per game.
Comfortable on either flank, the 31-year-old has enjoyed a good season away from the La Liga limelight.
CM: Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad)
One of La Real's unsung heroes, the central midfielder and product of the youth system has enjoyed a wonderful season at the heart of Sociedad's rise.
Patrolling in front of the back four, he's proven an intelligent shield capable of making interceptions and breaking up play. 11 yellow cards would also suggest he doesn't mind getting involved in the ugly side of the game.
However, Illarramendi has proven more than just a defensive screen, with his metronomic passing a growing feature of Montanier's side.
With only eight league defeats (and only three since week eight), consistency has been a byword for Sociedad this season and none moreso than their No. 8.
CM: Geoffrey Kondogbia (Sevilla)
The 20-year-old Frenchman has enjoyed a wonderful breakout season at the heart of Sevilla's midfield.
Tall and languid, yet powerful with a graceful left foot, Kondogbia has impressed and comparisons with Patrick Vieira aren't without their merits.
His 86.5% pass completion ratio is relatively strong for a midfield enforcer and belies his inexperience and he certainly doesn't shirk the physical side of the game.
If he continues on his current trajectory, don't expect it to be too long before some of Europe's elite come calling.
RAM: Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)
The Mexican forward has enjoyed a magnificent campaign playing on the right of Montanier's fluid 4-3-3 formation and has fully displayed his tremendous talent.
14 goals and nine assists have marked Vela out as La Real's chief creative force this season, perhaps even moreso than the excellent Antoine Griezmann.
His ability to carry the ball at pace and beat defenders has been a key component in their play and he's also grown with regards to his defensive work.
Still only 24, the future continues to look bright for Vela. Whether that future will continue in the Basque country or back at former club Arsenal—who retain a right to buy the player this summer—remains to be seen.
CAM: Isco (Malaga)
The departure of Santi Cazorla last summer left a creative void at the heart of the Malaga side, but Isco has transitioned from promising youngster to outstanding talent to fill that particular gap with aplomb.
Having occupied a variety of positions, the 21-year-old has been consistently excellent for Pellegrini's side, scoring nine goals. His technique and ability to weave his way through packed defences, either with a clever pass or dribble, have certainly shone bright.
Only one assist does mark him down, but in that regard he has often been the guy playing the pass to the guy who makes the assist.
A wonderful talent, his future may well be away from La Rosaleda and there will likely be a vast number of suitors.
LAM: Ruben Castro (Real Betis)
A tremendous season for Real Betis' diminutive forward has seen Ruben Castro notch 18 goals in his 33 La Liga matches, 11 of which have been the all-important first goal for his side.
Versatile Castro has filled positions all across the front in the Seville club's tremendous season, which could still end with them winning a European spot for 2013-14.
Quick on the counterattack and composed in the finish, the 31-year-old has also weighed in with six assists.
Flourishing as he ages, expect Castro to remain Betis' go-to guy next season.
CF: Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid)
With 28 league goals in 34 matches, the Monaco-bound Colombian striker has once again shown his class and will be a big loss to Los Colchoneros this summer.
His mix of clinical finishing, excellent close control and penchant for the spectacular marks him out as a constant threat—Deportivo certainly felt the full effects of his class when he netted five in a 6-0 win back in December.
His performances in Diego Simeone's side have been a major reason for Atletico's success this season—automatic Champions League qualification, the European Super Cup and the Copa del Rey.
All in all, the man known as "El Tigre" is quite possibly the best No. 9 in world football today.
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