Ranking the Best 50 Players in La Liga in 2017

Richard FitzpatrickSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 27, 2017

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds up the Golden Shoe award, as the last season's leading goalscorer in league matches from the top division of every European national league, prior of the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Deportivo Coruna at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

La Liga is taking a short break, so it's the ideal time to look back over 2017 and review who impressed the most over the past 12 months.

              

50. Cedric Bakambu (Villarreal)

Congolese forward Cedric Bakambu has had an impressive strike rate since joining Villarreal in 2015 and is one of the reasons the club is pushing for a Champions League place this season.

            

49. Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla)

Wissam Ben Yedder has shown enough flashes at Sevilla, including the accolade of being joint top scorer in last season's Copa del Rey, to suggest he could be a good signing for the club.

              

48. Manu Trigueros (Villarreal)

The Andalucian has been a mainstay for Villarreal for several years and likes to score the occasional golazo during his midfield shifts.

            

47. Jonathan Viera (Las Palmas)

Viera's story is heartwarming. Having spent most of his career with Las Palmas on the Canary Islands, the attacking midfielder made his international debut for Spain in October against Israel a few days before his 28th birthday.

            

46. Juanfran (Atletico Madrid)

The 32-year-oldwho surprised onlookers by beating Cristiano Ronaldo for pace during a sprint for the ball in the Madrid derby on November 18is still one of the best full-backs in the game.

               

45. Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)

Made his international debut for Spain in November and is earmarked for a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2018, per Sergio Santos Chozas of AS, as the club continues its policy of hoovering up the best Spanish talent.

Big things are expected of Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018.
Big things are expected of Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018.Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

               

44. Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

After a difficult spell at Liverpool, Iago Aspas has scored more than a goal every other game for Celta Vigo since returning to his native Galicia. He could be a bolter for Julen Lopetegui's World Cup squad.

             

43. Pedro Leon (Eibar)

Another player who suffered a few wilderness years on the books at Real Madrid. He has been brilliant over the last couple of seasons with Eibar.

             

42. Sergi Roberto (Barcelona)

Immortalised for his injury-time winner against Paris Saint-Germain in the 6-1 comeback game. We have yet to see the best of Sergi Roberto, who is regularly played out of position.

              

41. Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)

A fine central defender who can score goals from his own half and has been consistently linked with a move to Barcelona since the summer, per Marca (h/t Football Espana).

              

40. Dani Parejo (Valencia)

Finally coming into a period of sustained effectiveness after years of mixed performances, he is the playmaker orchestrating Valencia's early-season title challenge.

                 

39. Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid)

Player of the Tournament at last summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship and scorer of two goals on his full Real Madrid debut. It’s a shame manager Zinedine Zidane restricts his playing time.

                  

38. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

The French centre-forward has been misfiring this season with only two goals scored in the league, but he remains Ronaldo's best foil.

                

37. Simone Zaza (Valencia)

West Ham United fans wouldn't recognise Simone Zaza this season. The Italian strikerwho failed to score in eight appearances for the Premier League clubbagged 10 league goals before the Christmas break.

Simone Zaza has been in excellent form for Valencia.
Simone Zaza has been in excellent form for Valencia.fotopress/Getty Images

36. Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)

The evergreen Basque striker, who turns 37 in February, continues to cheat Mother Nature and gets better with the passing of each year.

             

35. Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)

What a joy to watch. Sadly, Muniain is out of action with a serious knee injury, which partly accounts for Athletic Bilbao's troubles this season.

              

34. Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)

Often the butt of transfer speculation at Real Madrid, he is highly regarded by his team-mates and Zidane for his extraordinary shot-saving ability.

              

33. Rodrigo (Valencia)

Rodrigo has been playing so well on the flanks for a born-again Valencia that he has forced himself into Spain's national team.

                

32. Geoffrey Kondogbia (Valencia)

As forager-in-chief, Geoffrey Kondogbia has been a revelation for Valencia in midfield this season after an unremarkable stint with Inter Milan.

                

31. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

What a player. Cruises around the pitch with unrivalled speed for a defender, but his injury-prone body betrays him too often.

Raphael Varane helped Real take the title last season.
Raphael Varane helped Real take the title last season.fotopress/Getty Images

           

30. Vitolo (Atletico Madrid)

Another exciting player whom manager Diego Simeone can call on for the second half of the season once UEFA's player registration ban is lifted.

              

29. Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)

The 20-year-old Portuguese winger has been one of the sensations of La Liga this season after arriving on loan from Paris Saint-Germain.

               

28. Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)

The Croatian midfielder continues to be a pivotal player in Barcelona's midfield and is another guy who looks recharged under manager Ernesto Valverde's guidance.

27. Steven N'Zonzi (Sevilla)

Steven N'Zonzi's eye-catching performances as a defensive midfielder for Sevilla earned him a debut on France's star-filled national team in November. The former Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City man has also been linked with a move back to the Premier League.

                  

26. Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad)

After two years wasting away on the subs' bench at Real Madrid, Asier Illarramendi is in the form of his life back on his home patch in the Basque Country.

                  

25. Casemiro (Real Madrid)

The all-action Casemiro has recently added goalscoring to his repertoire, including a deflected, long-range effort in Real Madrid's Champions League win over Juventus.

                  

24. Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)

A future Real Madrid captain in the making. Likes nothing better than stifling the life out of wingers; he has the lungs to get up and support Real's attacks.

                

23. Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)

The ageless Uruguayan is every manager's idea of a take-no-prisoners central defender and one of Simeone's most trusted lieutenants over the last six years.

                

22. Koke (Atletico Madrid)

Koke has established himself as first choice in Spain's midfield ahead of some serious contenders and continues to be an integral cog in Simeone's machine.

              

21. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

Ter Stegen took a couple of years to establish himself at Barcelona, but he has been imperious this season in helping to keep 11 clean sheets in 17 league outings.

               

20. Paulinho (Barcelona)

Paulinho was such a flop at Tottenham Hotspur that they offloaded him to the Chinese Super League at a cut-down price. He's a renewed figure at Barcelona, though, and has been the surprise player in La Liga this season, pitching in with six league goals and a dynamism that was missing from the side last season.

Paulinho has been a big hit since joining Barcelona.
Paulinho has been a big hit since joining Barcelona.Power Sport Images/Getty Images

                

19. Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

The great Andres Iniestawho will be 34 before the season finishesis not the relentless creative force he was five years ago, but he still conjures enough moments of magic to justify his position as Barcelona's captain. He has also enjoyed a bump in performances under Valverde.

             

18. Gerard Pique (Barcelona)

Gerard Pique sure isn't liked around the stadiums of Spain. Every time he touched the ball against Real Madrid during Saturday's 3-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, he was booed. His game, including his peerless ability to bring the ball out of defence, is as strong as ever.

               

17. Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)

Premier League fans will raise eyebrows following his underwhelming time at Chelsea, but Filipe Luis is one of the finest left backs in the game and has been excellent once again for Atletico.

               

16. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)

If only Gareth Bale could stay fit. He has racked up 20 injuries since joining Real Madrid in 2013, but when he has a few games under his belt, he's incredible to watch. Take his breakaway goal against Real Sociedad early in the season. The worry is we might not see many more of them in Madrid colours if the club cashes in on him next summer.

            

15. Jordi Alba (Barcelona)

After losing his starting place during the final season of the Luis Enrique reign, Jordi Alba has regained his mojo andgiven the departure of Dani Alves in 2016has become Lionel Messi's primary foil for attacks down the flanks for Barcelona. His speed, ability to run at defenders and big engine make him a formidable player.

              

14. Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)

Saul Niguez is an identikit Atletico Madrid player. He's like Simeone but two decades youngerwith an insatiable drive and fight in him. He also chips in with big-game goals, including a beauty against Real Madrid in the league earlier this season. Atletico will be glad to have secured him on a contract that runs until 2026.

             

13. Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)

Real Madrid stole Marco Asensio, who scored scorchers in each leg of the Spanish Super Cup final against Barcelona, from under the noses of their Catalan rivals. At only 21, he could yet become one of the world's greatest players, although he needs to be given more chances to kick on at Real.

Marco Asensio had a breakout season in 2016/17.
Marco Asensio had a breakout season in 2016/17.Power Sport Images/Getty Images

                    

12. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Toni Kroos is a favourite with Real fans, having been bought for a snip at €25 million after Germany's FIFA World Cup win in 2014. He hardly ever coughs up possession and has formed an enviable midfield pairing with Luka Modric.

              

11. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

"If I were a player, I would like to be Busquets," 2010 World Cup-winning manager Vicente Del Bosque said. It's easy to see why. Busquetswho is still only 29has over 100 caps for Spain as the team's pivot, where he plays also for Barcelona. He has been back to his best over the last 12 months.

              

10. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)

Antoine Griezmann's stock is falling. The Frenchmanwho was on the Ballon d'Or podium for 2016barely scrapes into our top 10; although the bicycle kick he scored against AS Roma in the Champions League group stage in November is a reminder of the talent he possesses.

Perhaps he has stayed a season too long at Atletico. His mind can't be right, knowing he will leave the club sooner rather than later, with Diego Costa waiting in the wings as a replacement.

Griezmann is still only 26, so if he goes to Barcelona or the Premier League next season, he might recapture the form that makes him such an effective frontman.

           

9. Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Luis Suarez has become a legend at Barcelona during a short spell because of his will-to-win and his prolific goalscoring, which includes a Golden Shoe win in 2016; he’s the only player besides Messi or Ronaldo to hold the award over the last decade.

A knee injury at the start of the season led to a goal drought, but the 30-year-old has hit his stride in December, knocking in five goals in five games, including the first in a 3-0 thumping of Real Madrid, which suggests he might be able to prolong his career at the Camp Nou for another season despite his advancing years.

                

8. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

It's hard not to love Sergio Ramos. He's breathtakingly reckless, as evidenced by his record haul of red cards in La Liga, with 22 accumulated during his 12-year career at the Bernabeu. But he never shirks responsibility.

The last 12 months have seen him pop up several times to score late, match-winning goals, including a vital strike against Napoli in the Champions League knockout stages when the tie was in the balance.

He seems to have been around forever, but he's only 31 and could yet win 200 caps for Spain. Captain Marvel.

                

7. Isco (Real Madrid)

Isco came of age in 2017. He started the year as a fringe player unable to nail down a place in Real's starting XI, but a bad ankle injury to Bale opened the door and he hasn't looked back.

His addition as a No. 10 in a four-man midfield helped to give Los Blancos more balance as they marched to five trophies over the year.

His gala performance for Spain against Italy in a World Cup qualifier in September, which included outrageous nutmegs and two goals from outside the box, endeared him to a nation.

Isco was superb for Real in 2017.
Isco was superb for Real in 2017.Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

               

6. Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)

Is there a better goalkeeper in the world? It's hard to argue a case for anyone other than the Slovenia international, who became La Liga's most expensive 'keeper when he signed for Atletico Madrid as a 21-year-old from Benfica in 2014.

He's the latest in a line of exceptional goalkeepers at the club. His predecessors include Thibaut Courtois and David De Gea.

Oblak's commanding presence and shot-stopping ability mark him out. Atletico Madrid will do well to hold on to his services.

               

5. Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)

Barcelona's transfer committee got a hammering over the summer because of botched efforts to buy several players, which included the Philippe Coutinho saga, but they got it right when they lifted the 22-year-old Samuel Umtiti from Lyon on the eve of Euro 2016.

Few outside France knew much about him, but he has proved to be the rock upon which Barcelona's parsimonious defence has been built this season until he picked up a bad hamstring injury at the start of December.

Fast, strong and elegant, he could be at the heart of the Camp Nou defence for a decade.

             

4. Marcelo (Real Madrid)

There is no one like Marcelo in football. His background as a futsal player makes it almost impossible to nick the ball off him, and it gives him tremendous confidence to beat a man and create space from a standing start.

The advantage he gives Real Madrida weapon arguably no other team enjoysis that he can quickly break between the lines from defence on the inside, which he did to devastating effect against Bayern Munich in a thrilling Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Bernabeu.

He has been Real's most consistently dangerous performer in 2017.

              

3. Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

It seems that at the grand age of 32, Luka Modric is only just getting started.

Five years ago, he was roundly derided during his first season at Real Madrid. Now he's been given the prestigious No. 10 jersey and is at the centre of nearly everything creative the team manufactures.

He still has amazing speed off the mark to break challenges, and his range of his passingshort, fast and vertical to unlock a defence or long to provide a bit of breathing spaceis always a delight.

                  

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Ronaldo has a lot to thank Zidane for after the Real manager persuaded him to sit out games of lesser importance so he would be fresher when it mattered after several seasons in which he petered out before the season's end.

Boy, did the Portugal international deliverfive goals against Bayern Munich in the last eight of the Champions League, a tie-ending hat-trick against Atletico in the semi-final, and a goal against Juventus in the final as well as the strike in Malaga that clinched Los Blancos' first La Liga title in five seasons.

Ronaldo has ended the year with 53 goals, one fewer than Messi, which feels about right.

Ronaldo won the title in 2016/17 but Messi has been dominant this season.
Ronaldo won the title in 2016/17 but Messi has been dominant this season.Francisco Seco/Associated Press

               

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Messi continues to defy belief. He played as well in 2017 as he has ever played.

He won another Golden Shoe, his fourth as Europe's leading scorer. He dragged Argentina to the World Cup finals with a backs-to-the-wall hat-trick against Ecuador at altitude in Quito; and he scored a last-minute match-winnermarked with an iconic, shirt-waving celebrationto defeat Real at the Bernabeu in April.

What has impressed even more about his displays for Barcelona is that he's double-jobbing: playing as the team's creative fulcrum as well as drifting in to score at will as a roving forward.

                

Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz

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