Ranking Real Madrid's Top 5 Players for 2015
Real Madrid won't look back upon 2015 fondly.
In a year in which Barcelona took all before them, capturing a historic treble on the way to five titles in total, their fierce rivals from the Spanish capital went empty-handed and endured frustration on nearly all fronts. Embarrassment, too.
Consequently, selecting Real Madrid's five finest performers from the most recent calendar year is difficult. After bright starts to the year, a handful of players fell away; others did the opposite and only rebounded late from difficult beginnings; a select few never really found their form at all.
So which five stood out then? Across the following slides, we've given our rankings for 2015.
As always, you can join in the conversation below.
5. Keylor Navas
When putting together this list, priority was given to players who were relevant all year in 2015 rather than for just one half of it, but the performances of Keylor Navas deserve a special mention here.
All last summer, the Costa Rican's career at Real Madrid looked destined to end given the expectation that David De Gea would arrive from Manchester United. On deadline day, Navas was even at Madrid's Barajas Airport, waiting for a flight to Manchester, the swap deal basically done and just needing confirmation.
Of course, Navas never got on that plane and the De Gea deal fell through. And since, the former Levante gloveman has been spectacular.
In a season in which Madrid have taken on a muddled identity, lacking direction and shape, Navas' unrelenting excellence between the posts has limited the damage. Just prior to the new year, he was excellent against Real Sociedad; prior to that, he was even better against Celta Vigo, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Granada, Malaga, Espanyol and Real Betis.
As such, he gets a place in our top five.
He still has his critics and he'll never please everyone, but Marcelo is now integral to Real Madrid.
In a year in which he had little support at left-back, the Brazilian shouldered an immense load under both Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez in 2015, holding down the position almost on his own amid Fabio Coentrao's injury issues and subsequent move to Monaco.
Of course, Marcelo's defensive qualities will always be questioned, but not only has he improved in that regard, it's also regularly overlooked how much is asked of him in Madrid's current system.
Indeed, with Cristiano Ronaldo typically starting on the left but spending the bulk of his time in central positions as he evolves toward a No. 9, Marcelo is essentially tasked with covering the whole left flank on his own.
Thus, the 27-year-old, despite being a full-back, has become one of Real Madrid's most pivotal players in attack, given that his athleticism and relentless running are key to maintaining width, fluency and some resemblance of formational balance.
All year he fulfilled that role admirably, and when he's missing, Madrid suffer.
3. Karim Benzema
Even if the second half of the 2014-15 season wasn't a great one for Karim Benzema, his outstanding form so far this term easily propels him onto this list.
At the beginning of the season, manager Rafa Benitez set his striker a target of 25 goals in the league, and the Frenchman, despite an extended injury layoff, is well on track. In just 11 starts in the Primera Division, Benzema has 11 goals, and in three Champions League starts, he has another four.
Never before has Benzema been this prolific or this consistent, and the question of whether he might be the most important figure to the structure of Madrid's system has become a legitimate one.
Indeed, as regularly noted, the Frenchman's unique skill set is vital to the way this team set up. With his size, strength and technical quality, Benzema is the central fulcrum that others play around, his presence absolutely critical in the middle of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
2. Luka Modric
Despite lengthy injury layoffs, Luka Modric had a profound effect on Real Madrid's fluency throughout the 2014-15 season. In fact, Modric's influence was so great that opponents recognised him as the side's key figure.
When Atletico Madrid's players discovered that the Croatian would miss the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie with Real, their response, per Marca, was telling. "He's half the team," they reportedly said.
Admittedly, Modric in 2015-16 hasn't hit the heights of the previous season, but he's still been among Rafa Benitez's most consistent performers at a time when the likes of Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Isco have fallen away.
In a season in which collective work ethic has been questionable, too, the Croatian has been one of the side's few tireless workers, routinely showing a commitment to both sides of the game. And while many have blamed Modric for errors that led to goals against Barcelona and Villarreal, what caused those errors was the disjointed state of Madrid's system and how the top-heavy nature of the team causes problems for the midfield.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
You certainly wouldn't argue that 2015 was Cristiano Ronaldo's finest calendar year.
In an evolving role, the Portuguese wasn't the same commanding presence we've grown accustomed to, his declining explosiveness slightly hindering his power-defined game. Ronaldo also experienced difficulties adjusting to Rafa Benitez following the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, and his goal return against major rivals has been a concern.
Yet even so, Ronaldo still managed to be his side's most prominent figure in 2015, racking up more minutes, more appearances and more goals than any of his team-mates, continuing to exhibit that relentless streak that has been a hallmark of his career.
And in the end, the numbers are hard to argue with: 54 goals in 52 games for the year with Real Madrid.