Ranking 10 Most Improved Players in La Liga This Season

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2017

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 21: Angel Correa of Atletico de Madrid in action during the La Liga match between Atletico de Madrid and Athletic de Bilbao at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on 21 May 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
Power Sport Images/Getty Images

We're only a few short weeks into the new season in La Liga, but already a slew of players have made their presences felt, having struggled for form or even relevance last season.

Three gameweeks in, we've taken an early look at those who have been the standout performers compared to last term, wherever they happened to be; we all know Lionel Messi has started the 2017/18 season on fire, but isn't he always?

Instead we're comparing 2016/17 impact to the early weeks of this campaign, giving us an indication of whose stock is on the rise and where consistency needs to be maintained if this is to be a much more memorable season than last year.

      

Honourable Mentions

Maffeo of Girona
Maffeo of GironaJuan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

A few early standouts deserve mention even though they don't quite rank in our top 10. Can they sustain their starts and be among La Liga's most impressive players? They certainly bear watching.

Clement Lenglet, Sevilla

Jefferson Lerma, Levante

Pablo Maffeo, Girona

Gabriel Pires, Leganes

Neto, Valencia

       

10. Inaki Williams, ATH

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 07:  Inaki Williams of Athletic Club in action during the La Liga match between Villarreal CF and Athletic Club at Estadio de la Ceramica on April 7, 2017 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams tailed off noticeably at the back end of last year, and the Basque side desperately need him to be the source of goals they believe he can be with Aritz Aduriz turning 37 later this season.

The 23-year-old is still waiting for his first strike of the new campaign, but he has already pitched in with assists on all three of the strikes his team have registered, including two for the veteran Aduriz.

Playing wide on the right or through the centre, Williams' pace is always a threat, and his movement should allow for a large volume of chances to fall his way—he just needs to discover a more clinical, ruthless streak in the box.

       

9. Geoffrey Kondogbia, VAL

VALENCIA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09:  Geoffrey Kondogbia of Valencia in action during the La Liga match between Valencia and Atletico Madrid at  on September 9, 2017 in Valencia, .  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Having fallen out of favour at Inter Milan, Geoffrey Kondogbia was offloaded to Valencia on loan this summer amid the Italian side's restructuring, and he has quickly made himself at home at the Mestalla.

Not signed in time to be involved in the opening game of the season, he has since started against both Madrid sides and was pivotal in securing a point against each.

His aggressive style in the centre, not just breaking up play with tackles but also happy to surge forward into the attacking half to drag his team upfield, has been of great benefit for a team still trying to put together a new identity and way of playing.

If he produces a consistent campaign he'll be a huge part of Los Che's anticipated revival.

             

8. Nolito, SEV

SEVILLE, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09:  Manuel Agudo 'Nolito'of Sevilla FC (L) being followed by Akashi Inui of SD Eibar (R)during the La Liga match between Sevilla and Eibar at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on September 9, 2017 in Seville, Spain .  (Photo by Ait
Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Speaking of revivals, Nolito has quickly rediscovered the form that made him an important player for Spain before his move to England in 2016.

A fast start and subsequent plummet meant his time at Manchester City ended quickly, and Sevilla have signed the man who will doubtless become one of La Liga's finest left-sided attackers once again in short order.

Already with a goal and assist to his name, Nolito is still looking a little short of full sharpness but has slalomed his way to importance in buildup and creativity. There's much more to come.

            

7. Lucas Hernandez, ATM

VALENCIA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09:  Lucas Hernandez Pi of Atletico Madrid in action during the La Liga match between Valencia and Atletico Madrid at  on September 9, 2017 in Valencia, .  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid's defence is difficult to break into, but perhaps this year Lucas Hernandez can finally transition from fourth choice to regular starter.

It's his consistency as much as his versatility that is impressive; both on the left and in the centre, he has already put in big displays this term and has yet to miss a minute of Liga action as a result.

The 21-year-old is strong, aggressive, aerially adept and isn't afraid to play out from deep, and he is one of the players who can help Los Rojiblancos transition through this season as manager Diego Simeone continues to build a side aiming to challenge the league's biggest two.

         

6. Iker Muniain, ATH

EIBAR, SPAIN - AUGUST 26:  Iker Muniain of Athletic Club reacts during the La Liga match between Eibar and Athletic Club Bilbao at Estadio Municipal de Ipurua on August 27, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

If Williams lost form at the back end of 2016/17, it's fair to suggest Iker Muniain rarely found it at all.

For years, he has been the big promising hope for Athletic, progress interrupted by injury and rumour, but this season he has started off looking sharp, confident and ready to regain a regular starting role.

The left side of the attack is his most frequent position—though many would love to see him paired with, and behind, Inaki. His ability to find spaces, play in runners and beat defenders with close control still make him an exciting player to watch.

He's 24, though, and Muniain needs to get a consistent run of form together this year. A goal on Sunday and another in Europe earlier in the season suggest he's perhaps getting close to doing so.

         

5. Maxi Gomez, CEL

FERROL, SPAIN - JULY 22:  Maximiliano Gomez of Celta de Vigo reacts during the pre-season friendly match between Celta de Vigo and Racing de Ferrol at A Malata Stadium on July 22, 2017 in Ferrol, Spain.  (Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
fotopress/Getty Images

Celta Vigo's new recruit begins our top five, and while Maxi Gomez's impact in La Liga has been stunning, we'll refrain from placing him any higher—he was already scoring in 2017 at former club Defensor Sporting in his home country, Uruguay.

Gomez has started up front in all three Celta fixtures thus far, netting twice on the opening day against Real Sociedad and a fourth for the season already in Sunday's win over Alaves.

Considering it's the 21-year-old's first game time out of South America, he's incorporated into a new team and La Liga is a big step up in quality, his immediate impact has been fantastic and just what Celta needed.

       

4. Angel Correa, ATM

Atletico Madrid's Argentinian striker Angel Correa plays the ball during the final Audi Cup football match between Atletico Madrid and FC Liverpool in the stadium in Munich, southern Germany, on August 2, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE        (Photo
CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

In La Liga for somewhat longer than Gomez is Angel Correa, but this season he might just be ready to turn from impact sub to Atleti starter.

The forward has always had many traits so revered by Simeone—aggression, work rate, intelligence in movement—but his one-on-one ability and willingness to shoot from anywhere have also stood out. The problem has been consistency, particularly when starting games rather than on as a sub.

This term, he came off the bench on the opening day and scored. He has started both matches since—with another goal against Las Palmas duly following.

Correa's innate style lends itself to playing somewhere between a wide forward and a second striker, and finding a regular role for him will be key to seeing him star for Atletico on a more regular basis.

           

3. Kevin Rodrigues, RSO

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - AUGUST 26:  Kevin Rodrigues of Real Sociedad controls the ball during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Villarreal CF at Estadio Anoeta  on August 26, 2017 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Already this year, Kevin Rodrigues has featured more in La Liga games for Real Sociedad than he did in the entirety of 2016/17, so it's not hard to suggest this has been a step forward.

Yuri Berchiche's sale to Paris Saint-Germain left a vacant spot at left-back, and the 23-year-old, finally given his chance in the first team, has stepped up admirably to fill the void.

Defensively, he has been reasonably strong for the most part, with the expected one or two mishaps an inexperienced defender can bring, but he has also contributed going forward and looks assured in possession.

There's a long way to go to call the position his own, but the faith in him is clearly there, and the opportunity is his to seize.

          

2. Thomas, ATM

Atletico de Madrid's Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey (L) vies with Valencia's defender from Spain Jose Luis Gaya Pena during the Spanish Liga football match Valencia CF vs Club Atletico de Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on September 9, 2017.
JAIME REINA/Getty Images

Simeone's changes to the usual Atletico setup have also seen midfielder Thomas Partey featuring in the past two games, starting and playing the full 90 against both Las Palmas and Valencia.

He can walk a fine line at times with his challenging for the ball and committing fouls, but there's no doubting his tenacity and athleticism are important for the team. He can also surprise opposition midfields by surging forward suddenly, covering distance at speed.

His final ball can still be improved, but Thomas' integration into the Atleti team has been gradual, both on the sides and centrally—and even behind the striker at some points. That all-around approach should pay dividends.

How long can he stay in the side? Performances will dictate all for Simeone—they always have—but at least Thomas is doing all he can to stay there.

       

1. Ganso, SEV

GETAFE, SPAIN - AUGUST 27:  Ganso of Sevilla looks on during the La Liga match between Getafe and Sevilla at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on August 27, 2017 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Top of the charts is the rejuvenation of a once-heralded Brazilian midfielder, with Ganso back in favour at Sevilla after a difficult campaign last year.

He played under500 minutes in La Liga during 2016/17 and just four times from December onward, but new boss Eduardo Berizzo has made the 27-year-old the fulcrum of his side early on this term.

His passing and ability to switch play has already been evident, but so too has been a demand on Ganso to break forward from deep and be a threat from the edge of the box, where his goal against Eibar on Saturday came from.

Already that was Ganso's second of the season, and he's laying on chances for others too. Perhaps this season he can finally make good on the promise shown during his earlier years in South America.

         

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