La Liga Team of the Week: Ivan Rakitic, Angel Correa and Casemiro Impress
Now with just two games left to play, La Liga is still undecided at both ends, with one point separating three teams at the top and three teams level on points at the bottom—though 20th-placed Levante are now down and confirmed as relegated.
For our Team of the Week, we take the best individual displays from Spain's top flight and combine the most impressive player from each position into a viable formation, with our selection process seeing us analyse every game to pick out a star XI from the weekend's fixtures.
This time we've opted for a 4-4-2 diamond, with only the best players in each position selected, leading to several tough decisions along the way. In addition to individual form, we take into account such factors as opposition quality and overall contribution to the team's display.
GK: Pichu Cuellar, SPO
Ivan Cuellar hasn't had a great season, but he produced one of those worldie performances at the weekend that goalkeepers have once in a while where they seem to stop everything and anything thrown their way.
The Sporting Gijon stopper's big game couldn't have come at a better time; they beat Eibar 2-0 to stay in with a fighting chance of survival, being one of the three clubs clustered together on 35 points along with Getafe and Rayo Vallecano, with Granada just one point better off.
Cuellar's saves and clean sheet sees him just edge out Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak.
RB: Juanfran, ATM
Atletico kept yet another clean sheet themselves at the weekend, and it was no surprise to see full-back Juanfran in imperious form. The defender was one of the few regular starters Atleti manager Diego Simeone kept in the team as he rotated to a large extent ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg.
Juanfran was a busy man in the first half in an offensive sense, surging down the right channel to link play on the overlap as Atleti held a narrow midfield diamond of their own.
After the break, it was much more about his defensive duties as Rayo Vallecano pushed for an equaliser, but Atleti held out to win 1-0 and stay level on points at the top.
CB: Jorge Mere, SPO
The second Sporting player in our team, teenage defender Jorge Mere, has had a largely outstanding season despite having a few blips along the way—as you'd naturally expect with a 19-year-old centre-back.
He was near-faultless at the weekend, stopping Cuellar having to do even more work than he already did, with Mere showing great positional work more than once to nip Eibar's attacks in the bud and stop a constant stream of passes into the box down the channel.
Mere's passing out of defence is a real strength, too, and he looks well capable of making the step up to a bigger team already if Sporting go down—though with another performance or two like this one, perhaps they won't.
CB: Jose Gimenez, ATM
Less of a surprise is to see two Atleti defenders in place. Jose Gimenez returned to the league starting lineup after his latest injury and partnered Lucas Hernandez, with both youngsters impressing on the day.
Gimenez just gets the nod ahead of the French defender thanks to his constant communication, organisation and all-round mature performance, which was so important for Atleti in the absence of Diego Godin.
With headed clearances, challenges won on the edge of his box and great covering work across the back line when needed, this was another complete defensive performance from the Uruguayan.
LB: Adrian Marin, VIL
Atleti weren't the only ones to rotate plenty; Villarreal changed 10 of their starters ahead of their own semi-final second leg in Europe, but they still beat Valencia 2-0 to secure a top-four finish and Champions League football next season.
They had two or three standout performers, with left-back Adrian Marin one of those. The B-team graduate has impressed for much of this campaign, ousting former back-up Bojan Jokic and proving a good standard attacking option when Jaume Costa has been unavailable.
Against Los Che, he mixed his usual runs forward with some solid defensive work, blocking off the threat from the flank and ensuring his team stayed compact in keeping the clean sheet.
DM: Casemiro, RMA
Into the four-man midfield and our first selection is Casemiro, Real Madrid's holding player who remained in the side amid another raft of changes.
The Brazilian had a lot of work to do in the first half in terms of tracking back, making covering challenges and filling in down the sides of midfield as Real Sociedad showed great endeavour in going forward, before also showcasing his range of passing and ability to pick out space for team-mates to attack in the second half.
Casemiro remains somewhat undervalued by some, and he can still improve further in future, but he has everything required to be a huge success and a big influence on the team.
CM: Ivan Rakitic, FCB
Barcelona didn't rotate, and they don't need to, so it was an all-star cast that faced Real Betis—but it took some time for them to get going.
Ivan Rakitic was one of the few not affected by a slow pace to the game, a dismal referee and perhaps the pressure of the occasion, as he played his normal game to pick passes between the lines and make intelligent runs forward.
He was involved in the game's two most important talking points, too: He was fouled by Heiko Westermann for the Betis defender's second yellow and subsequent red card, and he was also in the right place at the right time to net the game's opening goal early in the second half.
CM: David Zurutuza, RSO
Real Sociedad lost the game 1-0 late on against Real Madrid, but for 70 minutes or so, they were at least the equal of their opponent, and had they been able to field a striker, there's a chance they could have taken the points themselves.
Key to their best work both on and off the ball was David Zurutuza, a superb performer in the first half as he battled constantly to win possession, surged forward through space in midfield and brought the attack to Madrid with dribbles and a willingness to get inside the box.
After the hour mark as Real Madrid began to dominate, Zurutuza's indefatigable spirit kept up the chase and prevented the title-chasers from having an easy route to three points.
AM: Jonathan Viera, LPA
The battle at the bottom took an unexpected turn with Granada mounting a comeback win over Las Palmas, 3-2 after being two goals down, but the star of the show was the losing side's attacking midfielder: Jonathan Viera.
The No. 10 ran the game for spells and was the catalyst for Las Palmas taking control early on, as he has been on many occasions in a fantastic recent run for the promoted club.
Viera scored twice and laid on more chances for the team to take advantage of, while his being central to Las Palmas' game plan was emphasised by having over 100 touches of the ball (per WhoScored.com), at least 20 more than any other player on the pitch.
CF: Angel Correa, ATM
Just edging out Villarreal's Roberto Soldado, who set up both his team's goals in the win over Valencia, is Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa.
The Argentinian attacker didn't find the net this time but was the best outlet for his team, ran the Rayo defence all over the place with his movement and aggressive hunting down of the ball and was an example for others to follow to win a place in the side—notably fellow forward Luciano Vietto, who failed to impress.
Correa switched from centre-forward to the left side of the front line for the second half and was equally at home defending the flank as attacking on the counter.
CF: Duje Cop, MGA
Our final selection comes from Monday night's game, the fixture that saw Levante relegated from La Liga.
Malaga were the side who knocked the final nail in the coffin, winning 3-1 thanks to a couple of late strikes, one scored and the other set up by forward Duje Cop.
Cop has had a largely indifferent campaign overall, working hard and showing good movement and link play, while failing horribly inside the penalty box at times—but on Monday, he rectified that by scoring an instinctive opener in the first half and reacting well to net for 2-1 in the 90th minute. His assist came in stoppage time, and the victory sent Malaga back up to eighth place.