Ranking the Top 40 Players of the 2013-14 Spanish La Liga Season

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Ranking the Top 40 Players of the 2013-14 Spanish La Liga Season

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    Spain's La Liga has come to a close after a remarkable title fight, with Atletico Madrid being crowned champions after holding rivals Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in their last match of the season.

    There were, of course, plenty of star names on show in that particular game, though they make up just a handful of the top-quality talent which is visible in the top flight each week.

    Read ahead for our top 40 players from the 2013-14 league season.

Criteria

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    The selection criteria is based solely on La Liga fixtures and performances, not European or domestic cup competitions.

    Players must have made 12 or more La Liga starts to be considered, with no additional points being awarded for players featuring in all or most games.

    Due consideration is given for those playing with team-mates or clubs of lesser ability. In terms of what individual players achieved, though, their ranking isn't overcompensated for as a result.

    Lastly, all statistics are sourced from WhoScored.com.

Honourable Mentions

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    With only 40 slots to pick the very best, there were obviously a large number of candidates who just missed out on those top places. In no particular order, some of those who didn't quite make the cut include:

    • Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona
    • Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid
    • Raul Garcia, Atletico Madrid
    • Yacine Brahimi, Granada
    • Dani Parejo, Valencia
    • Markel Susaeta, Athletic Bilbao
    • Ignacio Camacho, Malaga
    • Ruben Perez, Elche
    • Aleix Vidal, Almeria
    • Alberto Bueno, Rayo Vallecano

40. Roberto, Granada

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    We kick off with a goalkeeper—one of four to make our list—in Granada's Roberto.

    Granada could quite easily have been relegated some time ago were it not for the veteran stopper's heroics. At 35 years of age, he remains an agile and brave presence between the sticks. He has a habit of thwarting forwards who go one-on-one with him and frequently makes saves on shots which look destined to end as goals.

    Roberto was left woefully underprotected at times, but he came up trumps at big moments for his team this season.

39. Ikechukwu Uche, Villarreal

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    Villarreal's challenge for a European spot fell away somewhat at the end of the season, but they might have fared better in that regard had Ikechukwu Uche retained his fitness throughout the season.

    He formed a good partnership in attack with Giovani dos Santos, with the Nigerian's pace and movement key to his side's attacking intent.

    Uche netted 14 times in total from just 19 starts, plus 11 sub appearances. A good season for the striker could have been a great one without early-2014 thigh muscle problems, which interrupted his best goalscoring form and from which he found it hard to recover.

38. Javi Guerra, Valladolid

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    Javi Guerra is a strong forward who has spent most of his career bouncing between the second division and the top flight, clearly too good for one but never quite able to have the big impact in the other.

    This season, he brought a reliable goalscoring threat to his game alongside his usual selfless running, aggressiveness off the ball closing down and neat, if unspectacular, link-up play.

    Guerra managed 15 goals in La Liga this season, comfortably his best return in the top flight. He will be making the move to Welsh side Cardiff City in the summer.

37. Aritz Aduriz, Athletic Bilbao

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    Athletic Bilbao have plenty of talented, technical players in their squad, but without powerhouse striker Aritz Aduriz, much of their clever build-up play would be wasted.

    The striker is excellent aerially, occupies two central defenders by himself at times with his powerful hold-up play and lets the midfield runners play off him with good technique and use of the ball.

    Not only that, but he was mightily impressive in front of goal over the second half of the season, scoring 13 of his 16 goals for the campaign since January.

36. Alberto Moreno, Sevilla

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    Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno was largely excellent this season, winning himself a place in the Spanish World Cup squad as a result.

    Quick to get forward and support attacks but aggressive in his one-on-one defending, Moreno is quickly proving himself a real all-rounder with plenty of pace and inclination to attack on the break.

    He'll be in high demand over the summer, and having won the Europa League with Sevilla this season, he could decide that the time is right to move on.

35. Neymar, Barcelona

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    Neymar's move to Barcelona last summer generated plenty of interest, which didn't really ever die down over the course of the season.

    Did he have as spectacular a season as he might have hoped for? No. But was he the big flop which some have been keen to portray him as? Absolutely not.

    Neymar was initially an important part of the attack, helping create plenty of goals for team-mates while also stepping up in big games. Injuries, shuffling formations and a drop in the overall team level didn't help him, but he still had a more-than-passable debut campaign in Europe.

34. Saul Niguez, Rayo Vallecano

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    If you haven't heard of Saul Niguez yet, there's a fair chance you might be impressed in the Champions League next season. The 19-year-old was on loan at Rayo Vallecano this season from Atletico Madrid and was extremely impressive.

    Playing both in central midfield and in central defence, the teenage Spaniard excelled and matured during the campaign. He still showed signs of being a raw talent at times, true, but he visibly grew in confidence and exhibited impressive decision-making all the time.

    He's another wanted man in the summer, but Atleti will no doubt be very keen to keep hold of him.

33. Rafinha, Celta Vigo

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    With the likes of Alberto Moreno and Saul Niguez coming through, Spain's international future still looks very good indeed, but the country will be disappointed to have lost out on the services of Rafinha, who opted to play for Brazil.

    The attacking midfielder was fantastic for Celta Vigo this season, combining great agility and technique with the versatility to play anywhere across the centre of the park.

    He's also pleasingly aggressive and diligent at times in his defensive work, though clearly his best traits are in taking the ball forward and helping his team attack. He was on loan from Barcelona this term.

32. Xavi, Barcelona

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    Midfielder Xavi was clearly not at his best throughout the season, but the Barcelona man's ability even at reduced capacity is still better than most at their peak.

    With his influence appearing to wane somewhat this term, Xavi did not always have a guaranteed starting spot, yet he still played particularly well in some of Barca's best games of the campaign.

    The question is, will this dip be a short-lived feature of his game, a downturn for a year before an Andrea Pirlo-esque renaissance? Or is Xavi looking at a reduced role in the team from here on in?

31. Sergio Busquets, Barcelona

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    It was a difficult year for Sergio Busquets, too, though you suspect it could be in part due to the changing of the midfield system and reduced pressing from this current Barcelona side.

    That, in turn, left Busquets far more open than he is used to. His recycling and sweeping-up work was supplemented by having to get through rather more chasing and covering this term.

    On the ball, he wasn't able to influence his side's play as much as he would've liked, but he remains one of the top performers in the game and will surely play a key role going forward.

30. Victor Valdes, Barcelona

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    Victor Valdes' Barcelona career has come to an end—and not quite in the way he would have wanted after injury ruled him out of the last weeks of the season.

    A fine shot-stopper, a good communicator and a big dressing-room presence by all accounts, Valdes still has the same deficiencies he's always had, but his strengths were sorely missed over the last few weeks while Barca had to rely on his deputy, Pinto.

29. Iker Muniain, Athletic Bilbao

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    After a downturn in form last year, wide forward Iker Muniain showed he is very much back on track this season.

    The Athletic Bilbao attacker has shown his best form at times, with great movement and skill on the ball being matched with an end product in the final third. He ended the season in double figures for combined goals and assists.

    Muniain's regular contribution was a big part of Athletic's ability to finish in the top four.

28. Andreu Fontas, Celta Vigo

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    If Rafinha was a big player going forward, Andreu Fontas was an inspiration at the back for Celta Vigo.

    The classy defender played in almost every game, usually at centre-back but occasionally further forward in midfield, playing the ball out of defence with confidence and assuredness. A strong tackler who doesn't shy away from a challenge, he's a good model for the entire setup modelled by former Celta boss Luis Enrique.

27. Youssef El-Arabi, Granada

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    Youssef El-Arabi is a quick, direct forward who can play either centrally or from the flank. He's a Moroccan international and Granada's best player of the season by a distance.

    Though not always consistent with his finishing, he notched 12 goals this term, helping his side take valuable victories and always giving the creative players behind him a target with his off-the-ball running.

    El-Arabi will have no shortage of top-flight suitors if he opts to leave struggling Granada in the summer.

26. Javier Mascherano, Barcelona

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    Argentine international Javier Mascherano had an impressive year all told, as usual filling in in defence and doing so to the best of his ability. He was bested and beaten at the back through no fault of his own, but rather due to the failings in the team ahead of him.

    Mascherano continues to produce the aggressive, defense-first performances expected of him. He uses the ball well and is incredibly difficult to beat along the ground.

    Whatever problems the team had this season, he wasn't really a part of that; Mascherano can be happy with his contribution on the whole.

25. Inigo Martinez, Real Sociedad

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    Real Sociedad centre-back Inigo Martinez continues to provide plenty of reasons as to why he could be Spain's next regular central defender to break through.

    He was solid, consistent and impressive at the heart of La Real's back line this season, overcoming a difficult start to push for European football next season once more.

    Whether he remains at the club to enjoy it next season is another matter; Martinez should be regularly performing in the Champions League, and there would be no shortage of clubs to let him do so.

24. Mateo Musacchio, Villarreal

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    One of the most consistent newly promoted players of the season, Mateo Musacchio slotted straight back into La Liga football and looked 10 times the player he was last time around.

    Aggressive in the air and quick over the ground, Musacchio is already being targeted by bigger clubs. It surely won't be long until he's back on the scene with the Argentine national team.

    Musacchio had a great season all-round, with his reading of the game ever improving and his ability to bring the ball out of defence a massive plus to his skill set.

23. Marcelo, Real Madrid

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    Real Madrid left-back Marcelo has had two spells out injured, but aside from the games around those two injuries, he has been the first choice in his position and has responded with some magnificent performances.

    Not too many players are able to affect the game from the full-back position the way the Brazilian can. His overlapping runs are always a feature, but this season, his runs infield added an extra, unexpected, creative option for his team-mates to exploit.

    Marcelo's dribbling and quick passing exchanges in the final third remain hugely impressive, while he also defends with a huge appetite and recovers his position quickly after transitions in play.

22. Koke, Atletico Madrid

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    Put Koke in any position in the team, and you'll get the same high level of performance from him—that's how consistent and reliable he has been for Atletico Madrid.

    Whether in midfield, at full-back or in a more withdrawn role—no role or expectation seems to faze the 22-year-old, who was a big part of Atleti's domestic success this season.

    Technically sound and capable of dribbling, passing long range or playing one-touch balls infield, Koke's use of possession is excellent, and his vision makes him a great asset in the final third. He's only going to get better, and he's already on the verge of being very, very good indeed.

21. Carlos Vela, Real Sociedad

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    Carlos Vela played both from the right side and in a central attacking position for Real Sociedad this season. He was the joint top scorer for his side and showed all his clever approach play in the process to be a source of chances for others as well.

    The Mexican has been a real success for La Real, naturally leading to some speculation over whether he'll remain with the club past the summer.

    His movement is perhaps second only to his immense close control in the top assets he possesses.

20. Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid

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    Usually on the opposite flank to Koke, Arda Turan was another big part of Atletico's great season, owing to his great productivity in the final third and his tactical intelligence and work rate.

    Arda has always been a creative and enigmatic player, but his intelligent ball usage and ability to open up tight defences early on have made him a perfect fit in Diego Simeone's own brand of 4-4-2.

    If he had better physical tools, the Turkish playmaker would be an even bigger player for the side. As it is, he's always a key player in the game, whether from the start or for the final half hour in a tight match.

19. Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona

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    Alexis Sanchez gets plenty of criticism, but the truth is that he came up mightily big for Barcelona at key times this season.

    The right-sided forward possesses the pace and direct running which the team was sorely lacking at times this term, bursting through packed defences and taking responsibility himself for breaking down stubborn opposition.

    He scored 19 times, the only player even close to Lionel Messi in goalscoring terms for Barca, and was involved in almost all of Barca's matches over the course of the league season.

18. Ander Herrera, Athletic Bilbao

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    Ander Herrera started off the campaign in and out of the Athletic Bilbao team, but since November, he hit his best form regularly and provided plenty of chances for his team from an attacking midfield position.

    Late in the season, he also featured on either flank, though behind the forward is his more natural and frequent role.

    His good use of possession is clearly one key trait, but Ander's ability to beat players with clever footwork, willingness to break into the box and phenomenal defensive work off the ball are all standout characteristics of his game.

17. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid

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    One third of the "BBC" attack of Real Madrid, Karim Benzema's work was often overlooked this season.

    Not just a penalty-box poacher, the French international shows tremendous intelligence and foresight to make runs off the ball, not even necessarily expecting to receive possession but purposely creating spaces for his wide forwards to exploit centrally.

    He has, however, also proven to be a key figure in front of goal, scoring 17 times in La Liga and also claiming nine assists. There are not many "pure" forwards in the league who can match Benzema's rate of 1.8 key passes per game, another indication of his all-round contribution to the Madrid cause.

16. Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao

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    Aymeric Laporte won himself a regular place at the heart of Athletic Bilbao's defence this term, with the 19-year-old barely missing a game all season.

    The French centre-back also filled in on the left at times, but from the middle, he showed great composure in possession to rove forward at will, pick an intelligent pass and support the midfield play from deep.

    Another Bilbao youngster who is only going to get much, much better with time.

15. Miranda, Atletico Madrid

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    Atletico centre-back Miranda is the less heralded of the partnership at his club, but he certainly gets through an awful lot of work each game and deserves his high ranking.

    The Brazilian is noted for his no-nonsense defending, his pace over the ground when covering the channels and his drilled, long-range passes to switch play.

    He provides a good foil for his partner, Diego Godin, and he made it impossible for Toby Alderweireld to get a look-in this season.

14. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid

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    Another centre-back now in Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, who enjoyed another terrific season on a personal level.

    His form has previously fluctuated between world-class and a horrendous liability at the worst of times while playing as a centre-back, but his poor games were few and far between this term.

    Aggressive, incredibly strong in the air and extremely forward-thinking, Ramos' ability to power upfield and provide an extra presence in attack also helps his team on its rapid breakaways. He still gets shown more cards than a Hallmark quality control inspector, though.

13. Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid

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    Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been an outstanding loan servant for Atletico Madrid over the past three years, growing in stature and ability with each passing season.

    2013-14 saw him pull off some remarkable saves within matches, but far more important is his all-round ability to dominate his penalty area, his impressive distribution and his capacity to learn.

    Leading a successful but inexperienced defensive line is not an easy task, but it's one he has proven more than capable of doing.

12. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid

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    Gareth Bale's debut season at Real Madrid had the odd downturn with injury or overly critical headlines, but in general, he was outstanding for the capital city side.

    Playing most frequently from the right side of the front three, Bale initially took time to adjust to that role, but he has emerged as a regular contributor to Real's deadly attack, both in terms of scoring himself and creating for others.

    The pace and physical presence he provides are perfect for Real's counter-attacks, but he has also been an improving part of the side's build-up play when Real dominate matches. Fifteen goals and 12 assists—an impressive return for the Welshman.

11. Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad

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    Meet the reason France don't need to worry about Samir Nasri's sulks.

    Antoine Griezmann has basically everything you want in an attacker: He's versatile, capable of playing anywhere behind the front man (he even played as the striker earlier this season), has bags of pace, loves running at defenders and has developed his penalty-box prowess considerably over the past 18 months.

    Usually operating from the left of Real Sociedad's front line, Griezmann can go outside the defender to cross on his left foot or waltz infield to link play and get in a shooting position. He scored 16 times this season.

10. Angel di Maria, Real Madrid

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    Angel di Maria was expected to be a casualty of Bale's appearance at Real Madrid; instead, the Argentine midfielder moved back into his old left-sided central midfield role and became one of Real's most important starters.

    The tremendous physical energy exerted by Di Maria every game sets a great example to the rest of the team, as he presses and challenges at every opportunity before driving forward into attack when the ball is won.

    He dovetails neatly with Cristiano Ronaldo's darts infield from the left of the attack and provides a great balance in the middle three alongside the slower and perhaps more incisive nature of the playmakers or holding midfielders.

    Di Maria topped La Liga with a massive 17 assists in 2013-14.

9. Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid

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    Diego Costa was nothing short of excellent for Atletico Madrid this season, going toe-to-toe with the league's best two goalscorers for a long time and ending with 27 goals this campaign, the third highest in the division.

    Aggressive, snarling, relentless and stubborn, Costa refuses to accept defeat in entire matches or in one-off battles within games, often leading to moments of confrontation or high-impact challenges.

    He has pace, physicality and powerful shooting and is a tough opponent in the air. Costa was a great focal point for Atletico's attack this season.

8. Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla

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    One of only two players in the top 10 not from the top three clubs, Ivan Rakitic was outstanding for Sevilla this term.

    The attacking midfielder drifts from a central role into the channels, linking play neatly and looking to play incisive balls for his striker to run on to—but he is also capable of dramatically changing pace suddenly, sprinting past midfield opponents to open up the game before they can react and recover.

    Rakitic has shown the capacity to play for a top club next season, meaning his trophy win with Sevilla in the Europa League could be his last meaningful act with the club.

7. Keylor Navas, Levante

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    The top goalkeeper, the top non-Atleti/Barca/Real player and one of the very best shot-stoppers in Europe this season, Keylor Navas was outstanding with Levante.

    The Costa Rica national team goalkeeper is tremendously athletic and agile, capable of making saves he has no right to get to, yet he is also sure-handed and confident in taking high balls around his six-yard box.

    Having developed at a rapid rate over the past 18 months, he can certainly still improve further, aged only 27 now. It would be a surprise to see Levante hold on to him past the summer—especially if he performs at the World Cup.

6. Gabi, Atletico Madrid

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    Atletico Madrid captain Gabi has been an inspiration in midfield, an absolute top-class box-to-box midfielder who seems to do every job on the field particularly well.

    Endless stamina and a great ability to read the game enable him to put in a big defensive shift when required, but this season, he also showed terrific creativity and an expansive side to his game which previously went somewhat unrecognised.

    He was in the top three for his team for tackles and interceptions per game, but also for dribbles, key passes and assists!

5. Luka Modric, Real Madrid

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    If Di Maria provides the thrust and power in midfield for Real Madrid, Luka Modric has offered the creativity, the constantly probing method of attack and the frequency of chances for the front players.

    This season, Modric operated in a more withdrawn role at times, central in a two-man midfield pivot and then alongside Di Maria at the head of a three-man grouping, but he always looked to get on the ball, keep the tempo going and find spaces for others to run into.

    The Croatian was immense all season and arguably Real's second-most consistent player.

4. Andres Iniesta, Barcelona

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    There were times this season, especially in the second half of the campaign, when Andres Iniesta appeared to be dragging Barcelona along toward their title challenge.

    While others saw their form dip over the course of the season, Iniesta showed his very best form in big games. If he had been fit to start in more than 27 games from the start, the season could have been a different matter for Barca.

    On the ball, there are few players in world football, never mind in La Liga, who can match Iniesta's ability to beat defenders in restricted spaces.

3. Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid

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    Atletico Madrid's best and arguably most important player this season was Diego Godin, so it was fitting for him to power in the headed goal which essentially won them the league title.

    Simeone's Atleti side is based on a structured, impenetrable defence, well protected by a hard-working midfield. At the heart of everything is Godin, ordering players around, winning every high ball into the area and averaging more than seven clearances per game, a top-10 score for the league.

    Godin was the league's best defender by some distance. As a result, he takes a top-three finish in our rankings.

2. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

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    Leo Messi had a down year, say some. Maybe so. He certainly wasn't at his best, but he still ended second-top scorer with 0.9 goals per game and had another clutch of memorable dribbles, strikes and performances.

    The Argentine forward has been so far above everybody else for so long that a noticeable drop in fortunes makes it seem as though his form has deserted him...even though he remains better than most.

    Messi in a poor year? Still second best in the league.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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    Truthfully, even if Messi had made it a good year, he'd still be behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

    The Real Madrid forward was utterly irrepressible, netting 31 goals in 30 games and sharing the European top-scorer award as a result.

    His pace, drive and power from the left side—and later in the season, as a second striker—continue to make him impossible to mark or prevent from searing toward goal, while his finishing remains as unerring as ever.

    There may be some debate about other players in the top 40 and their respective positions, but No. 1 isn't even close. Cristiano Ronaldo was far and away the best player in La Liga for 2013-14.