5 Most Impressive La Liga Players Not at Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

5 Most Impressive La Liga Players Not at Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico

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    Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Lionel Messi.

    Play with the order, but there are the top three players in La Liga this season—all three of them supported by able footballers.

    Not everyone will agree on that, though.

    So what's going on outside the most exciting title race in Spain in recent years?

    The following slides look at the five most impressive players in the Primera Division outside of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona this season—the only rule is that no club can feature more than once. 

Honourable Mentions

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    Athletic Bilbao

    The Basque side lead the way in the race for Champions League football. Players like Ander Herrera, Ander Iturraspe and Aritz Aduriz have all been impressive in patches this season.

    However, there's a feeling Athletic's form is more about a team effort and some outstanding work from manager Ernesto Valverde. As a result, none of their squad made it into the top five.

    David Lopez

    Espanyol's tough midfielder has been one of the most impressive cogs in Javier Aguirre's side. Still only 24, it will be interesting to see how his career develops from here.

    Dani Parejo

    Valencia's side is hardly bulging with star names and sellable assets these days, but central midfielder Parejo has shone—more often than not—when their mediocre season has shown signs of life.

    Javi Guerra

    Excellent in Real Valladolid's promotion season two years ago, Guerra struggled to adapt in his first season in La Liga. He's been brilliant this year, though, scoring 12 goals so far and lining up a summer move to Cardiff City. 

5. Keylor Navas

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    England think they'll find it tough against Italy and Uruguay at this summer's World Cup.

    In their other group match, they'll have to find a way past Levante's Keylor Navas in the Costa Rica goal.

    That's no easy task, as 12 cleans sheets in 26 La Liga games prove.

    The 27-year-old has been one of the principle ingredients in his club's recent eight-match unbeaten league run, including a heroic performance in their draw with Barcelona.

    Even as that run came to an end last weekend against Real Madrid, it wasn't through any fault of Navas. He produced eight saves at the Bernabeu—a league high for him this season (h/t Opta)—as Los Blancos triumphed 3-0.

    See also: David Cartlidge's recent WhoScored article on the goalkeeper. 

4. Bruno Soriano

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    Villarreal's return to La Liga has breached expectations. After one year down in La Segunda, they returned to the Spanish top flight and presumably targeted survival.

    As we now enter the final stretch of the season, they remain just about in the hunt for the Champions League.

    At the very least, they should hold onto a Europe League spot, although Sevilla and Valencia may push hard.

    Central to that success has been captain and midfielder Bruno Soriano.

    The 29-year-old has scored five goals this season, but his commitment and leadership have been most impressive.

    Sid Lowe's Guardian column after the Yellow Submarine's draw with Atletico Madrid fantastically illustrates how important Bruno has been to Marcelino's side this campaign.

3. Rafinha

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    Letting Thiago Alcantara leave for Bayern Munich could eventually go down as Barcelona's worst ever piece of business.

    In the meantime, it looks as if they're desperate to not let his brother go the same way.

    Thiago's brother, Rafinha Alcantara, is spending the season on loan at Luis Enriques's Celta Vigo. However, so impressive has his form been as the season has progressed that Barca have already confirmed he'll be back at Camp Nou next year, the player's father told La Xarxa (h/t Sky Sports).

    The 21-year-old has scored four and laid on four more for the Galicians, but it is his eye for space and the detail in his passing which have made him stand above his colleagues. 

2. Antoine Griezmann

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    After making his France debut in their recent win over Holland, it looks like Antoine Griezmann will be in the squad for this summer's World Cup.

    It's not hard to see why.

    The Real Sociedad forward, who primarily plays on the left but ghosts around, has been in insatiable form for his club. He has scored 15 goals and created three more in just 22 appearances for the San Sebastian outfit.

    Clubs around Europe are thought to be drafting bids for the player in anticipation of the summer.

    Manchester United have already confirmed their interest in the impressive 22-year-old, according to The Metro

1. Ivan Rakitic

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    To say he's been ropey from the penalty spot would be doing Sevilla's Ivan Rakitic a massive disservice.

    The Croatian has missed from 12 yards against Valencia and Real Madrid, but without him, Unai Emery's side would almost certainly be closer to the bottom three than the European positions.

    From a central midfield position, often more attacking, Rakitic has contributed to 19 goals in his 24 starts in Spain's Primer Division—scoring 10 and assisting nine more.

    WhoScored only rank him behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the course of this season.

    Questions will follow as to whether he could do it at a bigger club, or if he needs to be the big fish, but for now we can continue to enjoy his role at Sevilla.