Real Madrid Midseason Awards: MVP
Real Madrid have been exceptional throughout the first half of the 2011-12 campaign. Los Blancos finished the 2011 year as leaders of La Liga, and qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 with a perfect record.
In his second season as Madrid manager, José Mourinho has the team poised to overtake rivals Barcelona as Spanish and European champions.
Although Madrid's success has been a collective effort, a few players have stood out as both valuable and irreplaceable to Los Blancos.
Here are the results for the first Real Madrid Midseason Award, Most Valuable Player.
Honorable Mention: Sergio Ramos
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Sergio Ramos has been in sensational form this season for Los Blancos. The Spaniard's tenacious defending has been crucial to Madrid's dominance through the first half of the 2011-12 campaign.
Due to an injury suffered by first-choice central defender Ricardo Carvalho, the Real Madrid vice-captain has played the majority of the season at centre-back. Ramos has excelled in the heart of defense, forming a formidable partnership with Portuguese international Pepe.
Arguably the best central defensive pairing in the world, Ramos' pace and distribution skills provide a perfect balance for Pepe's no-nonsense and tough-tackling style of play. The Spaniard's move from right-back to centre-back has been key to Madrid's impressive attacking football this season.
Ramos has the skill and composure to play out of the back, giving Madrid that added dimension. When opponents press high on Xabi Alonso, the Spaniard can carry the ball into midfield and keep possession.
With his unique combination of athleticism, skill and determination, Ramos has developed into a world-class central defender. The Real Madrid vice-captain has undoubtedly been one of the stars of the first half.
2nd Runner-Up: Cristiano Ronaldo
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Real Madrid's biggest star has picked up right where he left off last season, scoring an impressive 24 goals in all competitions. Although frequently criticized for his selfish style of play, Cristiano Ronaldo has contributed eight assists as well.
The Portuguese superstar failed to convert two golden opportunities against Barcelona, but he has been in great form this season for Los Blancos. Ronaldo's ability to score from the run of play, corners, set-pieces and the penalty spot makes him one of the most dynamic goalscorers in world football.
Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín have shared the goalscoring burden this season, but Ronaldo remains the most dangerous attacker for Los Merengues.
Ronaldo's goalscoring record speaks for itself, but he has contributed off the ball as well. The Real Madrid No. 7 has shown more defensive commitment this season, tracking back more often and keeping the team shape.
The Portuguese star has been heavily criticized for his sub-par performance in El Clásico, but his importance to Real Madrid is immeasurable. Ronaldo's ability to produce the spectacular and change the match at any point in time make him invaluable to Los Blancos.
1st Runner-Up: Xabi Alonso
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Xabi Alonso does not show up on the scoresheet often, but he is arguably Real Madrid's most valuable player.
Mourinho’s midfield general orchestrates attacks with his exceptional range of passing, linking the defense to the attack. The Spaniard receives the ball from the back line and dictates the tempo with his crisp, precision passing.
Alonso may not be the most gifted athlete in the first-team squad, but his technical ability and tactical awareness are absolutely world-class.
Without the Spaniard in midfield, Los Blancos are a completely different team in terms of attacking and possession play. Alonso's ability to dictate play through the midfield and pick out teammates with cross-field diagonals makes him invaluable and irreplaceable to Madrid.
Mourinho has experimented with other technical, holding midfielders like Esteban Granero and Nuri Şahin, but the team does not have the same fluidity in possession and when transitioning from defense to attack.
Ronaldo, Benzema, Özil and the other attacking players frequently grab the headlines. However, Mourinho and Madridistas both know that Alonso is the midfield lynchpin that makes everything happen for Los Merengues.
Winner: Ángel di María
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In a team full of stars, Ángel di María shined the brightest throughout the first half of the 2011-12 season.
The Argentine winger has been in sensational form for Real Madrid, leading La Liga with 12 assists in 14 matches. Di María has been a constant threat down the right flank, taking on defenders and creating goalscoring opportunities for teammates.
Di María's electric pace and delicate touch make him exceptionally difficult to mark in one-on-one situations. However, his clever through balls and deft reverse passes have been the keys to unlocking defenses from around the league.
Although the Argentine's attacking play has been outstanding through the first half, his defensive contribution has been equally, if not more impressive.
Di María covers every blade of grass for Los Blancos, pressing high up the pitch and tracking back defensively as well. The Madrid winger's tireless running and closing down have been instrumental to the success of Mourinho's high line of pressure.
Willing to burst his lungs for the team, Di María's effort and determination set him apart from the majority of wingers in modern football.
He may not be Real Madrid's most expensive signing in recent seasons, but Di María has clearly been the best and most valuable player for Los Blancos through the first half.