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La Liga: Ranking the Top 25 Players in the Spanish First Division

Luis HerreraAnalyst IMarch 19, 2011

La Liga: Ranking the Top 25 Players in the Spanish First Division

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    The Spanish First Division is arguably one of the best two leagues in the world, fighting with the English Premier League for the top spot.

    In recent years Barcelona and Real Madrid have overshadowed the opposition, but when it comes to individual performances there have been also players from other teams who deserve praise.

    Who are the top 25 players in La Liga 2010-2011? Let’s take a look.

     

    NOTE: one of the factors considered for this ranking is the impact each player has had this season for his team–otherwise we would probably have ended with seven or eight Barcelona’s players in the top 10. There is a reason they are the best team in the world by far.

    I also tried to have at least one player from most teams, especially those in the top spots of the standings. Another factor in consideration was to have at least one player per position.

Honorific mentions

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Ten players who missed the cut, but have had been very important in the success of their teams this season.

     

    * Víctor Valdés (Barcelona)

    Yes, he is on route to his third straight Zamora trophy but, how much is that his merit and how much just a consequence of playing in the best team of the world.

    Valdés is definitely a very good keeper, but his impact seems minimal compared to other member of the Blaugrana squad.

     

    * Ricardo (Osasuna)

    The veteran goalkeeper has spent most of his career helping low tier teams to avoid relegation and this is not the exception.

    However, at age 39, he is having one of the best seasons of his career, being a key factor to make Los Rojillos the fifth best defense in the First Division.

     

    * Diego Alves (Almería)

    Almería will probably play the next season in the Second Division and Diego Alves is the reason we still say “probably”.

    Yes, he has conceded 16 goals in three games against Barcelona, but the entire squad was a disaster in those matches.

    He has several suitors and will play for a much bigger team in 2011-12.

     

    * Eric Abidal (Barcelona)

    Don’t get me wrong: Abidal is probably one of the three best left-backs in the world and was a solid contributor for Los Culés this season.

    However, I don’t see him as essential in Barcelona’s first XI. He does very well in the left side, but Dani Alves does more in the right.

    He has also provided depth as central defender when needed, but also did Sergio Busquets—who also missed the cut, by the way.

    We’ll get to see if I’m wrong now that he will miss the rest of the season due to a liver tumor. Hopefully he will be back for the next tournament.

     

    * Gerard Piqué (Barcelona)

    Shakira’s boyfriend is in the same boat of Valdés and Abidal for this ranking. He is a great player, one of the best in his position, but Barcelona can survive with him.

    Carles Puyol is still the leader in that defense.

     

    * Parejo (Getafe)

    In his first season with the third team from Madrid, the youngster was a key factor in last year’s sixth place, which allowed Los Azulones to play this season in the Europa League.

    This time Getafe is not doing that well, but at least they seem safe from relegation.

    Sadly for Parejo, Real Madrid is expected to execute the buy-back option they have on him, so he will probably join Pedro León in the bench of Los Merengues for the next season.

     

    * Mesut Özil and Ángel di María (Real Madrid)

    The two newcomers quickly fit in Jose Mourinho’s scheme and never seemed to feel the pressure of wearing the Merengue shirt.

    Their good performances have made Kaka’s absence unnoticeable and the only reason they didn’t make the cut is the fact that their impact is overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s impressive season.

     

    * Santi Cazorla (Villarreal)

    An injury prevented him from being part of the Spanish squad in South Africa 2010, but he has bounced back from that sad moment with a terrific season.

    Villarreal’s midfield has been impressive this season and Cazorla has been a constant menace for rival defenses from the right side.

     

    * Javi Martínez (Athletic de Bilbao)

    The Basque anchorman has been a regular in Athletic’s starting XI since joining the squad for the 2006-07 season. A rock in the midfield and a big threat in corner and free kicks, he was part of the 2010 World Champion Squad and it’s just matter of time to see him in a top tier European side. He is only 22-year old, so we can expect him to be a regular for La Furia Roja in the next decade.

25. David Trezeguet (Hércules)

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Country: France

    Age: 33

    League appearances in 2010-11: 24

    Goals (only in La Liga): 10

     

    The veteran striker was the main reason Hercules had a decent first half in the league, staying clear from the relegation zone for a while.

    Once the Frenchman started struggling to find the net, the Alicante side fell in the table and is now headed back to the Second Division.

    Let me give you an idea of how important is Trezeguet for his team: he has scored only twice in 2011; both times Hércules won. In the other nine games, they have eight defeats, one draw and only one goal scored.

24. José María Callejón (Espanyol)

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 24

    League appearances in 2010-11: 28

    Goals (only in La Liga): 6

     

    Los Periquitos have been the surprise of the season, staying in the Champions League zone for a while. They are now in the 5th position, so at least one member of the squad had to appear in this ranking.

    It was very hard to pick one, as Espanyol is one of those teams in which the team-work is more than the sum of its individualities.

    Callejón gets the spot due to a obscure stat that however illustrates how much he produces in the attack: he has received more fouls than anyone else in La Liga, and it’s not even close. You can check the list here.

23. Diego López (Villarreal)

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 29

    League appearances in 2010-11: 28

    Goals conceded (only in La Liga): 30

     

    Villarreal has the third best defense in the First Division, only behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

    We could argue Villarreal is actually the best defense, considering the two powerhouses spend 90% of their games in opposite territory, hence the low amount of goals they concede.

    Diego López is undoubtedly the cornerstone of that defense.

    He has not missed a game since the 2007-2008 and we shouldn’t be surprised if he finally jumps from the Yellow Submarine to a bigger ship next year.

22. Juan Mata (Valencia)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 22

    League appearances in 2010-11: 23

    Goals (only in La Liga): 5

     

    Valencia is the ultimate “team” in the Spanish League. There are no stars, but a very good collective that has managed to have a better season than 2009-2010 despite the departures of David Villa and David Silva.

    Left winger Mata is probably the best player in that group, quickly adapting to the absence of his previous partners.

    Due to Valencia’s financial struggles, he will probably join Silva in Manchester City next season.

21. Nacho Monreal (Osasuna)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 21

    Goals (only in La Liga): 0

     

    Keeper Ricardo is one of the main reasons Osasuna has the fifth best defense in La Liga. Left back Monreal is the other one.

    He was targeted by Arsenal and Liverpool for the winter transfer window, but a knee injury prevented him to leave Pamplona.

    During his absence, Osasuna lost three of five matches. Since his return, Los Rojillos are 3-2-2, with several strong performances by him.

    Nacho is already one of the most valued players in his position and will surely replace the aging Joan Capdevilla in the Spain starting XI for upcoming competitions.

20. Xabi Prieto (Real Sociedad)

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    Photo: elpais.com

    Country: Spain

    Age: 27

    League appearances in 2010-11: 27

    Goals (only in La Liga): 6

     

    The right winger was a key factor to bring the Basque team back to the First Division after three seasons in the Liga Adelante and he has raised his game in the top league.

    Real Sociedad was even challenging for a spot in the next Europa League, although a bad streak in recent weeks has stopped those dreams for now.

    Spain National coach Luis Aragoneses already admitted he could include Prieto in a future calling to La Roja. Barcelona is also interested in the gifted dribbler.

19. Felipe Caicedo (Levante)

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    Country: Ecuador

    Age: 22

    League appearances in 2010-11: 20

    Goals (only in La Liga): 11

     

    One of the top prospects in world football, Caicedo has struggled to find stability as Manchester City had no room for him and a first loan to Sporting was cut short due to the lack of activity he had.

    His situation improved in Malaga, where he was an important member of the squad in the second half of last season.

    The Ecuadorean striker is finally reaching his potential with the modest club from Valencia, scoring one goal every 116 minutes in the league.

    Levante has a buy option on him and they will surely execute it. He is been a key factor for them to be 13th despite having one of the weakest squads in La Liga.

18. Dani Alves (Barcelona)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Brazil

    Age: 27

    League appearances in 2010-11: 25

    Goals (only in La Liga): 1

     

    Alves is probably the best right back in the world and a case can be made to put him in the top 10 of this list.

    However, as I mentioned in the intro, the impact of each player in his own team is also in consideration.

    The Brazilian is a very good defender, although he spends most of the time playing as a right winger.

    Any other team would rush to secure his services, but Barcelona’s board has decided to take their time.

    That’s a luxury they can afford due to having many other top stars in the squad, and that’s what sends Alves to the 18th spot of this ranking.

17. Diego Forlán (Atlético de Madrid)

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Country: Uruguay

    Age: 31

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 8

     

    If I had made this ranking at the start of the league, I would probably put Forlán 3rd or 4th in the list.

    He was coming from a terrific season, leading Atlético to win the Europa League (plus the European Supercup) and Uruguay to a surprising Semifinals run in the FIFA World Cup South Africa.

    This year, however, Forlán has been flying under the radar, at times with subpar performances, letting Sergio Agüero to become the indisputable star of Los Colchoneros.

    Anyway, the veteran Uruguayan is still a world class player and Atlético needs him to recover his best football to get a spot in the next Europa League.

16. Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 32

    League appearances in 2010-11: 16

    Goals (only in La Liga): 1

     

    Puyol remains the captain and cornerstone of Barcelona’s defense. His leadership and work ethic are invaluable.

    However, the veteran Catalan has struggled a lot with injuries this season, already missing 12 league games.

    Now that Eric Abidal is out for the rest of the season, Barcelona needs its captain to return soon. Otherwise the defense will be a big concern in the upcoming matches.

15. Jonathan De Guzmán (Mallorca)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Netherlands

    Age: 23

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 2

     

    The Canadian-born attacking midfielder has been outstanding this season, helping Mallorca to forget about their financial issues and dream about a return to the European competitions.

    De Guzmán has mentioned that he decided to sign with Mallorca despite having other offers due to the faith shown in him from owner Lorenzo Serra Ferrer and coach Michael Laudrup.

    He is definitely corresponding that faith. Even if he can bring the team back to the Europa League, he could provide a huge financial relief with a transfer to a top side in the summer.

14. Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal)

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Country: Italy

    Age: 24

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 15

     

    The American-Italian striker had been a consistent scorer for the Yellow Submarine since joining the team in 2007, netting 33 league goals in his first three years.

    But he is definitely having a breakthrough season in 2010-11, breaking his personal records in all competitions.

    Rossi is on pace to finish the season with 35 goals counting La Liga, Copa del Rey and Europa League. He will definitely be a coveted target in the next transfer market.

    Marcello Lippi is probably kicking himself for not including Rossi in the Italian squad for South Africa 2010.

13. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 24

    League appearances in 2010-11: 23

    Goals (only in La Liga): 1

     

    Ramos’ career has been always linked with controversy, but also with great defensive skills, versatility and leadership.

    He is one of the top defenders in the world and would be higher in this list if there weren’t a certain CR7 stealing the spotlight for his teammates.

    The Andalusian is one the most wanted players by Chelsea and other English sides for the next season. However, he seems poised to stay in Madrid for a while an become a legend in the merengue clubhouse.

12. José Antonio Reyes (Atlético de Madrid)

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 27

    League appearances in 2010-11: 25

    Goals (only in La Liga): 5

     

    Once considered a world-class prospect, Reyes never managed to become the top player many expected him to be.

    However, this season he is finally playing at the level Los Colchoneros had been waiting to see him since signing him from Arsenal in 2007.

    Reyes scored the first goal against Inter in the European Supercup and has kept a high level during the entire season. If only Atlético had a decent defense…

11. Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 28

    Goals (only in La Liga): 10

     

    Sevilla shocked many when they let go Luis Fabiano to Sao Paulo last weekend. Negredo was the main reason Los Andaluces were comfortable making that move.

    A perennial Real Madrid snub, Negredo has improved a lot from the level he showed last season, in which he even had a 12-game scoring drought.

    Still not a regular in the Spanish National Team, he could make his way into the next callings if he keeps his good form… and hopefully Real Madrid won’t execute the buy-back clause they have.

10. Borja Valero (Villarreal)

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    Phil Cole/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 3

     

    Last season, Valero was the best player in a Mallorca side that was just minutes away from qualifying to the UEFA Champions League.

    This year, Valero is the best player in a Villarreal side that is on its way to secure a spot in the next Champions League and is the only Spanish side still alive in the Europa League.

    The talented midfielder was already called to the Spanish National Team last October, but didn’t get to play. Hey, he is competing with Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fábregas, Sergio Busquets…

    It doesn’t matter. If he keeps playing at his current level, his time with La Roja will come.

9. Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 29

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 0

     

    Xabi Alonso is the best signing Real Madrid has done in the past five years. Yes, I’m including that other guy who wears the number 7.

    I’m not saying that Xabi Alonso is a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo, but he was a much more needed piece in Madrid’s engine.

    After spending tons of money on attacking players, Los Merengues finally realized they needed balance in the midfield. Alonso is not just a holding midfielder; he is a deep-lying playmaker that adds another dimension to the team.

8. David Villa (Barcelona)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 29

    League appearances in 2010-11: 27

    Goals (only in La Liga): 17

     

    Last year, I would probably have put El Guaje in the top 5 of this list.

    And it’s not like he is not playing as well as last year. He has had an outstanding first season with Barcelona.

    He has been an upgrade from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and that’s not an easy task. He is currently the third top scorer in the First Division and an indisputable starter in the Spanish National Team.

    Still, with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi in the same team, his importance for his team is not as big as it was with Valencia.

7. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 29

    League appearances in 2010-11: 27

    Goals conceded (only in La Liga): 20

     

    Like Víctor Valdés, Casillas benefits of being in a team that is almost always attacking, so he has not much to worry about in most games.

    The difference between Valdés and Casillas is that the latter has proven his quality time after time with Real Madrid and the Spanish National Team.

    Andrés Iniesta scored the goal of the victory, but Iker was the true hero in the South Africa 2010 Final.

    He hasn’t had many big nights this season, but with two (probably four) games against Barcelona in the near future he will definitely be a key factor in the three tournaments Real Madrid is playing.

6. Sergio Agüero (Atlético de Madrid)

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Country: Argentina

    Age: 22

    League appearances in 2010-11: 23

    Goals (only in La Liga): 11

     

    El Kun will be the top target in the next transfer market.

    Despite signing a contract renewal in January, the truth is that the days of the Argentine striker with Los Colchoneros are about to come to and end.

    Agüero is Champions League material and he can’t keep waiting for his team to assemble a decent defense to become a true contender in the Spanish League.

    In numbers Sergio is having a very similar season to 2007-08 and 2008-09, but in playing level the difference is notorious.

5. Fernando Llorente (Athletic De Bilbao)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 28

    Goals (only in La Liga): 15

     

    El Rey León already surpassed his season-best scoring total and is tied fourth in the top scorers table with Giuseppe Rossi.

    The difference between the Italian striker and the Basque star is that Llorente is not the penalty kicker in his team.

    Fernando is already being linked to several top sides, but he has stated many times that he is happy in Athletic, a team full of young players with great potential.

    If he stays for the 2011-12 season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Los Leones getting into the Champions League.

4. Xavi (Barcelona)

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 31

    League appearances in 2010-11: 24

    Goals (only in La Liga): 3

     

    In my opinion, Xavi deserved the Golden Ball last year.

    He is the motor of Barcelona and the Spanish National Team, that happen to be the two best squads of this century.

    The Catalan midfielder has already earned a spot among the all-time best, no matter if FIFA rewards him or not with an individual award.

    He just turned 31, so he still has at least a couple of good years on his legs.

3. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Country: Spain

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 28

    Goals (only in La Liga): 7

     

    Iniesta struggled with injuries in the previous two seasons and still managed to have a key role in the 2009 Champions League and the 2010 World Cup.

    Now he has been healthy the entire season and his impact has been even bigger.

    Andrés is probably the most complete footballer in the world. He can play in almost any spot of the midfield and the attack and do it at a high level.

    Entering his maturity as a player, he is definitely among the world elite, just a step behind the top players of this ranking.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Country: Portugal

    Age: 26

    League appearances in 2010-11: 26

    Goals (only in La Liga): 27

     

    Whenever Real Madrid has a problem, they just need to call CR7.

    Saying that the Portuguese star is having an impressive season is probably an understatement.

    He had played every minute in La Liga until two weeks ago, when his body finally asked for a break.

    Ronaldo has 27 goals in the First Division and 10 more in the Cup and Champions League. He also has 11 assists among all competitions.

    In almost every other season and every other league, he would be the top star by far… but it happens that there is one little guy in Barcelona…

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Country: Argentina

    Age: 23

    League appearances in 2010-11: 25

    Goals (only in La Liga): 27

     

    La Pulga is out of this world.

    Messi has 45 goals and 20 assists in 41 official matches this season including La Liga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League.

    After the critics for Argentina’s failure in the FIFA World Cup, Messi has spent the next months terrorizing the opposing defenses.

    I still think he didn’t deserve the Golden Ball in 2010, but right now there is no doubt he is the best player in the world.

What Do You Think?

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    I'm waiting for your comments.

     

    As every subjective ranking, everybody is entitled to have their own opinion, so I'll be glad to debate the merits of the players listed and those who were not included.

     

    Follow me on Twitter: @luisrha

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