La Liga End of Season Awards
La Liga came to an entertaining end on Saturday, with Barcelona winning the title, Real Madrid finishing as runners-up and Eibar and Almeria ultimately joining Cordoba in being relegated.
The on-pitch action might be over, but everything else—reviews and inquisitions, transfer rumours, plans for next season and everything in between—will now crank up a notch.
Before we look ahead, though, it's time to look back and deal out our B/R awards for the 2014-15 season in Spain's top flight, with prizes for the usual categories of best player and best signing but also for the biggest disappointments, the breakthrough star and many more besides.
Best Player: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Alternative Candidate: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid.
The first and no doubt most contentious award, simply because the nature of the teams and players involved, is Best Player. In any case, the top two in the world are increasingly difficult to split.
Over the first half of the season, Cristiano Ronaldo had this award in the bag—he was monstrous, unstoppable and brilliant. Injury and the overall dip of his team meant that form wasn't sustained throughout, however, despite a good finish.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, was simply "very good" in the first half of the campaign and rose to incredible new heights after the winter break, dominating his side's improvement as Barcelona roared to the title, scoring and creating in equal measures.
Tactically, he was vital for his team, dropping into space centrally off the right side to act as playmaker, as well as being his usual, penetrating self when heading into the box.
Messi came up with the moments that mattered in the games that were pivotal for his team and cannot be denied or begrudged the label of the best player in the league for the season as a whole.
Best Overall Signing: James Rodriguez, Real Madrid
Alternative Candidates: Luis Suarez, Barcelona; followed by Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona and Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid.
It was tremendously close to call between James Rodriguez and Luis Suarez for the Best Overall Signing award, but the Colombian edges ahead for his overall impact on his team and, more importantly, how much better Real were when he was on the pitch.
It's very difficult to separate either of them—both cost around the £70 million mark, both played around 2,200 minutes and both managed between 25 and 30 goal contributions—but Real looked a far better team with James than they did without.
The Colombian immediately proved adept at breaking the lines of opposition midfields and defences with his runs from deep. His capacity to attack the six-yard box was imperative to supporting Real's quick attacks, and his blistering shots from range were always spectacular to watch. Whether wide in midfield, wide in attack or in the centre of the park, James was committed, involved and grew in stature soon after his big-money move.
We'll never know how much closer they may have got to the title if he and Luka Modric had stayed fit all season, but it's a fair bet that Carlo Ancelotti would have preferred to have them available more than they were.
Best Value Signing: Grzegorz Krychowiak, Sevilla
Alternative Candidates: Miguel Angel Moya, Atletico Madrid; Ever Banega, Sevilla; Luciano Vietto, Villarreal; Sergio Asenjo, Villarreal; Pablo Hernandez, Celta Vigo.
As opposed to the Best Overall Signing gong, this award goes to the player who delivered an exceptional performance for the season without the price tag that generates huge and immediate expectation. That has to be Polish Sevillla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.
The holding midfielder anchored the pivot with power and aggression all season long, combining a mean defensive presence with good on-the-ball skills, starting attacks from deep and occasionally joining up in the final third with late runs into the box.
Sevilla signed Krychowiak for just €4.5 million from Reims, yet only months later, teams were linked with £20 million-plus bids for him, an indication of just how well he performed.
Best Young Player: Jose Maria Gimenez, Atletico Madrid
Alternative Candidates: Jose Gaya, Valencia and Sergi Darder, Malaga.
Unlike some awards for young players, we've only considered players who are 21 years of age or younger now.
While there have certainly been more than a few standout youngsters in La Liga this term, the top shout has to go to Atletico Madrid central defender Jose Maria Gimenez, the 20-year-old who has worked his way into last season's title-winning side and usurped Miranda as the established choice alongside Diego Godin.
Injuries and the odd rotation aside, Diego Simeone has gradually turned more and more to Gimenez, who displays great reading of the game and composure considering his limited top-level game time up to this point, as well as aggression and timing in the challenge.
Both aerially and on the ground, Gimenez has been tremendously difficult to get past and looks set to be a top partner for Godin, for both club and country, for years to come.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Diego Alves, Valencia
Alternative Candidates: Sergio Asenjo, Villarreal; Fabricio, Deportivo La Coruna; Claudio Bravo, Barcelona.
While Claudio Bravo might take the award for best defensive record, Diego Alves takes our award for the undisputed best No. 1 in the top flight.
The Brazilian has been imperious throughout the campaign, showing great consistency for most of the year and making some awesome, impressive saves when it has mattered in big games. His penalty-saving record is much talked about, rightly so, but just as important is his aerial presence, his quick distribution and his great one-on-one ability.
The massive disappointment for Alves will be that he picked up a long-term ACL injury on the final day, meaning he will miss the Copa America this summer—the injury also suffered by rival Sergio Asenjo for Villarreal at the end of April.
Most Improved Player: Nicolas Otamendi, Valencia
Alternative Candidates: Tiago, Atletico Madrid; Neymar, Barcelona; Denis Cheryshev, Villarreal.
There are several considerations for the Most Improved Player award, namely from one term to the next or the start of the current season to the end.
In both regards, Valencia centre-back Nicolas Otamendi has far surpassed any normal expectations of him, easily outperforming any season he has previously had with a series of commanding and unbeatable displays in front of Diego Alves. With the two of them in such fantastic form, it's not surprising Los Che had a good year.
From his ferocious challenges on the edge of his own box to his single-mindedness in attacking set pieces at the opposite end, Otamendi has unquestionably been Valencia's best player and La Liga's top defender this year.
Best Goal: James Rodriguez, Real Madrid vs. Almeria
Alternative Candidates: Behind runner-up Jose Gimenez's thunderous shot following a great team move for Atletico Madrid against Elche are Ander Capa of Eibar, Jonathas of Elche and Pablo Hernandez of Celta Vigo's outrageous backheel.
A goal of the season is, of course, hugely subjective and down to personal preference. We've simply gone for the spectacular here, with a team effort selected as the runner-up.
James Rodriguez's strike, running onto the ball and absolutely leathering it on the volley past Ruben in goal for Almeria in April—the first goal in an eventual 3-0 win—is B/R's Liga Goal of the Season.
Top corner. No messing. Full power. Amazing!
Best Individual Performance: Lionel Messi vs. Cordoba
Alternative Candidates: Ronaldo and Messi produced too many to note, but special mention to Otamendi and Alves against Barcelona and Antoine Griezmann versus Athletic Bilbao.
Looking at the final scoreline of Cordoba 0-8 Barcelona, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Catalan club simply swept the bottom team aside—but it wasn't like that at all for the first half of the game.
Barcelona didn't score their first goal until the 42nd minute, as Cordoba defended manfully, were organised, sat deep and countered at pace when possible.
However, Lionel Messi was a constant threat, and it was Messi who provided the countless ingenious moments to break those massed defensive ranks. It was also Messi who eventually found the telling pass to break the deadlock, in what was perhaps his most virtuoso performance of the entire league campaign.
He had already shown amazing footwork to dribble past four and shoot, as well as displaying his playmaking skills to give clear chances to Neymar, before he actually assisted the first goal for Ivan Rakitic to lash home.
Thereafter, Cordoba's will was undone and Messi's magic shone through at every opportunity.
Messi was involved in the second goal, headed home the third on the run from 15 yards, touched home the sixth after also helping create it and then memorably let Neymar take a penalty instead of potentially notching a own hat-trick.
Best Team Performance: Real Madrid 9-1 Granada
Alternative Candidates: Barcelona 5-1 Sevilla; Valencia 3-1 Atletico Madrid; Real Madrid 5-0 Athletic Bilbao.
It's tough to pick out just one game for the season in which a team was at the absolute peak of its powers because it happened frequently for Barcelona and Real Madrid and a number of times for other top sides in big games too.
In the end, we've opted for Real Madrid's destruction of Granada for the sheer ruthlessness of Carlo Ancelotti's men on the day—without exaggerating, it could easily have been 14 or 15. Cristiano Ronaldo put five past the hapless relegation-threatened team, which inexplicably went on to survive, but could have added three or four more to his tally if his close-range shooting had been up to scratch.
The movement in attack was non-stop, the final ball both intelligent and incisive and, most impressively of all, the relentlessness of the entire team meant they kept the assault going right up until the end of the 90 minutes.
Worst Signing: Alessio Cerci, Atletico Madrid
Alternative Candidates: Thomas Vermaelen, Barcelona and Alfred Finnbogason Real Sociedad.
With every transfer window comes deals that simply don't pan out in which they were hoped, and Alessio Cerci's move from Torino to Atletico Madrid certainly fits into that category.
Having been part of Italy's World Cup squad, Cerci moved to Atleti for around £16 million but utterly failed to impress Diego Simeone and barely played 100 Liga minutes, failing to make a single start in that time.
He was shipped off on loan to AC Milan in January and will probably move back to Italy without playing another game for Atleti.
Biggest Player Disappointment: Gareth Bale, Real Madrid
Alternative Candidates: Gabi, Atletico Madrid; Iker Muniain, Athletic Bilbao; Gerard Deulofeu, Sevilla; Alvaro Negredo, Valencia.
Disappointments come in different shapes and sizes, but what we have judged here is the level of expectancy surrounding a player against what they actually produced. In that regard, while others failed to show the consistency required to reach the top of their games frequently, Gareth Bale has to take the Biggest Player Disappointment title.
As a big-money man in a Champions League-winning outfit, never mind the fact that Real Madrid's expectations shoot higher with every passing year, Bale failed to deliver the absolute world-class quality required as standard from such a player.
Was he awful? No, not at all. Certainly not in the early part of the campaign. After the winter break, though, he was subpar at best, and that's simply not good enough.
Elsewhere, the performance level of Gabi dropped enormously from last season, Iker Muniain never found consistency at the top level and didn't progress before sustaining his season-ending knee injury in April, Gerard Deulofeu flattered to deceive once again and Alvaro Negredo looks finished as a regular scorer.
Biggest Managerial Disappointment: Javi Gracia, Malaga
Alternative Candidates: David Moyes, Real Sociedad and both Quique Sanchez Flores and Pablo Franco, Getafe.
It wasn't only players who disappointed, with a handful of managers also not living up to expectations throughout the course of the campaign.
At Getafe, the early season didn't go well enough for Quique Sanchez Flores to remain in place, while Pablo Franco hardly got the ball rolling thereafter. David Moyes also endured, rather than enjoyed, his part-season at Real Sociedad, winning just 10 of his 31 games in charge.
However, our pick goes to Malaga's Javi Gracia, whose team looked promising early on in the campaign yet slumped alarmingly.
Gracia was unable to maintain performance levels in his side or pick up results, managing just five Liga victories in 2015 and falling out of contention for European places to eventually finish ninth after one win in 11 to finish the season.
Worst Club Decision: Cordoba for Sacking Their Managers
Alternative Candidates: Malaga's deciding Javi Guerra could replace/improve upon Roque Santa Cruz and declining to invest anything at all in the squad.
Exactly what Cordoba were hoping to achieve this season only they can know.
Having finished seventh in La Segunda last term, they weren't even in the play-off spots and got there on the technicality of Barcelona B not being allowed to take part. However, having won promotion that way, they clearly either needed to accept their limitations or invest to try and compete. They did neither.
Less than a million euros in transfer or loan fees was spent in summer, yet they dispensed with manager Albert Ferrer just eight games into the new campaign Miroslav Djukic came in, a Liga boss with experience, yet he was also gone by March, sacked after eight successive losses.
Youth coach Jose Romero became the third manager of the season, but he took only two points from the last 11 games of the campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Cordoba finished rock bottom and completely missed the chance to build something rather more sustainable during the campaign.
Manager of the Year: Nuno, Valencia
Alternative Candidates: Luis Enrique, Barcelona and and Paco Jemez, Rayo Vallecano.
We'll finish up with two more positive awards, starting with Manager of the Year, which we award to Valencia's Nuno Espirito Santo. Barcelona's Luis Enrique deserves a mention, as does Paco Jemez of Rayo Vallecano for exceeding what anybody could have reasonably expected of him, but Nuno's achievements rank him above both.
The former goalkeeper has come into a new league as a manager and incorporated a host of new signings, many at great cost, and was both stylistically and tactically impressive.
Los Che finished eighth last season but have secured Champions League football for next term under Nuno, raising their points tally from by a whopping 28 points and improving the goal difference by 40.
A season of rebuilding turned into one of near excellence, and the signs are extremely promising for next term.
Breakthrough Star: Jose Maria Gimenez, Atletico Madrid
Alternative Candidates: Jose Gaya, Valencia; Sergio Rico, Sevilla; Inaki Williams, Athletic Bilbao.
Our Breakthrough Star award goes to the player who has made the biggest impact in his first full season in the league, which by chance means it goes to the the Young Player of the Year: Jose Maria Gimenez of Atletico Madrid.
The fact it was Gimenez's first campaign in the spotlight, the first year when he was called upon to make an impact on a regular basis, makes his performances and consistency all the more impressive.
Elsewhere, it's great to see faith put in young Spanish talent such as Athletic's attacking midfielder Inaki Williams and Sevilla's 21-year-old goalkeeper Sergio Rico, and it was even better to witness both taking full advantage of their playing time.