Ranking the Top 50 Players of the Liga Season
The 2014-15 La Liga season in Spain came to an end at the weekend as Barcelona took another title, Xavi said his emotional goodbyes, Valencia sealed Champions League football and Deportivo La Coruna, along with Granada, managed to save themselves from relegation.
Now that the dust has settled and our La Liga awards for the year have been handed out, it is also time to look back over the campaign as a whole and determine just who the most standout, consistent and overall best players in the top flight have been.
These are the top 50 from La Liga this season.
Players and their performances were selected and ranked in accordance with their 2014-15 La Liga fixtures only. Copa del Rey, European competition or matches at other clubs in different leagues are not taken into account.
To ensure a cut-off point, all players must have made 15 league starts over the course of the league season, and once eligible for inclusion, they are judged on what they did in those games, not on whether they could have done more if not for injury/managerial change/rotation, not what the team missed out on, etc.
Other than that, all La Liga players this term were considered, judged and ranked accordingly.
There are so many players who deserve a mention and had to be cut off at the 50 mark that it is incumbent to note some of them, in no particular or ranked order, here.
Jeremy Mathieu, Barcelona
Samuel Garcia, Malaga
Lucas Vazquez, Espanyol
Augusto Fernandez, Celta Vigo
Inigo Martinez, Real Sociedad
Xabier Etxeita, Athletic Bilbao
Sergi Darder, Malaga
Geronimo Rulli, Real Sociedad
Victor Casadesus, Levante
Miguel Angel Moya, Atletico Madrid
Jose Gaya, Valencia
Daniel Carrico, Sevilla
Youssef El-Arabi, Granada
David Barral, Levante
Mikel Arruabarrena, Eibar
Paco Alcacer, Valencia
Andreu Fontas, Celta Vigo
Jordi Alba, Barcelona
Manu Trigueros, Villarreal
Gonzalo Castro, Real Sociedad
Mario Pasalic, Elche
50 to 46
50. Sergio Garcia, ESP. Espanyol's best player and an enduring talent, with pace, work rate and skill now into his 30s.
49. Xavi, FCB. Going out on the highest high of all in league terms. Could yet get far better overall.
48. Karim Benzema, RMA. His link-up play makes a big difference to Real's attack but should have scored more than 15.
47. Sergio Busquets, FCB. Tremendous start and end to the season, dipped in between.
46. Weligton, MGA. Aggressive and tough to play against but a big leader for Malaga.
45 to 41
45. Ignacio Camacho, MGA. Injuries disrupted his season too often, but his domination of midfield remained apparent.
44. Bruno Soriano, VIL. A huge miss for Villarreal while injured, which coincided with their drop-off. Tremendous early on.
43. Aritz Aduriz, ATH. The perfect striker for Athletic and he seems to be getting better as he ages. The highest-scoring Spaniard this season with 18.
42. Roberto Trashorras, RAY. Classy and elegant on the ball, often overlooked while at a lower-half club.
41. Miki San Jose, ATH. Burly, aggressive and enthusiastic, he has been excellent in a holding midfield role over the second half of the season.
40 to 36
40. Luciano Vietto, VIL. Tremendously talented, though needs to be more clinical. Not the world beater the headlines made him out to be at times...yet.
39. Raul Garcia, ATM. Still so important for Atleti, starting or off the bench. Dangerous in the air and versatile in the extreme.
38. Marcelo, RMA. Not always so assured defensively, but his support play is up there with the best and Real's left side hits top form when he does.
37. Sergio Ramos, RMA. Had a great run of form earlier in the season, but injuries and lack of protection later told.
36. Andres Iniesta, FCB. Has a role of reduced demand in midfield now but remains exquisitely talented, determined and a joy to watch.
35 to 31
35. Jose Maria Gimenez, ATM. Our chosen Young Player of the Year for La Liga, Gimenez won his place at Atleti and kept it on merit. An excellent season and lots more to come.
34. Jonathas, ELC. A huge reason Elche stayed up. His brand of power, skill and shots from any angle will make him a man in demand this summer.
33. Alberto Bueno, RAY. Talented and dangerous with his runs from deep, composure in the box and skill in one-on-one situations. The No. 10 is off to Porto for the new season.
32. Mikel Rico, ATH. The driving force from the heart of Athletic's midfield, his form helped the team's revival. Equally adept this year at winning the ball back and distributing cleverly.
31. Diego Godin, ATM. Not as memorable a season as last year for Godin, who started the season slowly and picked up the odd injury—but was still a formidable force when back in form.
30. Carlos Bacca, SEV
Our big countdown from 30 onwards starts with Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca.
You know exactly what you're going to get from the Colombian: plenty of pace which he uses to run in behind the opposition defence, a top work ethic and good finishing skills.
He ended another 20-goal season in the top five scorers of the league, has helped Sevilla to fifth place as their main man in attack and could yet win more European silverware—not that the latter factors into our rankings, but it's still worth a mention.
Bacca has been pretty consistent throughout the season, more or less scoring three goals over the span of any five or six games to keep his team on an upward path.
29. Claudio Bravo, FCB
The goalkeeper with the best defensive record and winner of the Zamora award, Chilean stopper Claudio Bravo joined Barcelona in the summer as part of a total overhaul in that position and has proven himself one of the best in the league, easily coping with the pressures of being at a bigger club expected to win every game.
Bravo didn't always have huge amounts to do in games yet kept his consistency and concentration when it mattered, pulling off big saves at times when the scores were level or close—just as important whether the opposition was Elche or Valencia.
He may not have been expected to remain first choice throughout the season, but eight clean sheets to begin his Barca career showed he totally deserved to stay in place.
28. Javi Fuego, VAL
Amidst all the flashy, expensive and big-name signings that Valencia have made and intend to make under new ownership, Javi Fuego provided a welcome reminder that without absolute determination, tactical balance and defensive acumen, few teams can hope for success.
The combative holding midfielder was a free transfer two years ago and had competition for his place from the likes of Andre Gomes, Filipe Augusto and others—but he was a pivotal part of Nuno's team and played more than 3,000 minutes this season, per WhoScored.com.
Winning back the ball, distributing it to those in more advanced positions and protecting the back four (or three at times) unerringly, Javi Fuego was truly an unsung hero for Los Che this term.
27. Denis Cheryshev, VIL
Had he kept up his form from the first half of the season over the campaign as a whole, Denis Cheryshev would have been spoken about in terms of the top players of the year. Unfortunately, rotation and then injury curtailed his impact for Villarreal.
The on-loan Real Madrid man terrorised defences from the left wing early on in the year, though, being the spark of the Yellow Submarine's attacks with his great pace and dribbling threat, his direct running and capacity to both shoot or cross low into the area on the run.
On either foot, cutting in or going outside the defender, Cheryshev proved difficult to stop and was one of the biggest reasons that Villarreal initially looked to challenge for a Champions League spot.
When he was (and two or three others were) rotated out of league games to save him for the cups, Villarreal's form suffered, and when they tried to arrest that situation by starting the Russian, injury struck twice and their season fell apart.
26. Koke, ATM
One of Spain's best midfielders, Koke had two scintillating spells of form this year bridged by one where Atletico as a whole failed to quite live up to the standards set last term.
Still playing from the left more often than not (no, he's not a winger), Koke sits infield and works ferociously hard to win back the ball—he probably wins more challenges in a month than some players get through in a season, such is his endeavour when his side are out of possession.
Set pieces, delivery from wide and his through passes toward the attackers continue to make up a large part of his game, but we want more from this innate talent.
Atleti have to consider moving him central permanently next season surely, allowing him to dominate games more frequently and help his team dictate games more than defend them. He was sorely missed when absent in key games when injury struck, and the biggest compliment you can pay him is that he makes a very good side an excellent one at times.
25. Ever Banega, SEV
After too many seasons ambling around and not quite settling into any team regularly enough, Ever Banega has at times this season looked capable of hitting the heights everyone initially hoped of him.
The Argentinian playmaker has excelled at Sevilla, playing most frequently as the advanced of three in the centre with a tough-tackling and hard-working pair behind him. He seems always to have time on the ball, is capable of picking out the pacy wide men with ease and joins up with the attack from deeper.
Contributing a few more goals would be nice, but he certainly makes Sevilla tick and enjoyed a great season with them.
24. Toni Kroos, RMA
Real Madrid's big-money man in the heart of midfield, Toni Kroos came in to much expectation and largely delivered, though a sense remains that the team could get even more from him if used differently.
The German is, of course, one of the best on the planet in terms of his distribution, his playmaking and his tempo-setting—not to mention his corner delivery being one of the best in the league—but Real's attacking tendencies and lack of balance in the team left him exposed defensively at times.
It's not really his fault he has been sat deep in midfield, and he's done a good job most of the time, but Kroos also gets bypassed at times by mobile midfielders who have swamped him. Given the price and his output, has he really been a step up from Xabi Alonso?
Real could yet get much, much more from him.
23. Dani Parejo, VAL
A fourth playmaking central midfielder in a row, Dani Parejo has excelled for Valencia, playing most frequently just ahead of the aforementioned Javi Fuego, knitting together Los Che's play concisely and intelligently and getting the terrific wide attacking talents involved at every opportunity.
Tactically he is great for Nuno to have involved; he can push on as a true No. 10 or sit as a third central midfielder, while his range of passing and set pieces provide the thrust and change of pace that Valencia especially needed early on in the season when they looked overly defensive at times.
He finished as the team's joint-top scorer with 11 for the season and at times was the difference between his team matching an opponent and having slightly more quality.
With the form shown this year, he has to be a big consideration for Vicente del Bosque's Spain squad heading into next season.
22. Fabricio, DEP
The second of four goalkeepers to make our top 50, Deportivo La Coruna have plenty to thank Fabricio for after eventually avoiding relegation on the final day.
The 27-year-old Spaniard made some spectacular, improbable and vital saves along the way to keep his side in matches, playing behind what was at times an ill-structured defence that was especially vulnerable to attacks down the channels.
Tremendous reflexes, great consistency and an obvious determination to reach those shots that seemed goal-bound made Fabricio a real standout for his team.
He is our second highest-rated Spanish goalkeeper, incidentally, and the list unsurprisingly doesn't include Iker Casillas. Maybe Parejo isn't the only uncapped player who should be hoping for a call-up in 2015-16...
21. Vicente Iborra, SEV
Banega might be the creative spark for Sevilla, but one of the players who has allowed him to be so free in space and have an impact in the final third is the Spaniard sat behind him in midfield: Vicente Iborra.
A rampaging, all-action midfielder who covers both ends of the pitch with a blend of physicality and technique, Iborra has impressed whether asked to sit deepest and win possession or to drive on from deep, attack the box unexpectedly and get himself on the scoresheet.
Powerful in the air and convincing as a quick-link player on the deck, Iborra has an all-round game that has proved tough for many sides to stop this term, especially if they focus their attentions elsewhere on perhaps the bigger star names.
At 27, he's hitting his prime as a pivotal part of this successful Sevilla team and can continue his progress there next term.
20. Ivan Rakitic, FCB
Barcelona signed Ivan Rakitic from Sevilla last season and he has been an absolute success, a great addition as the manner of attacking changes slightly under Luis Enrique and a big player who has allowed, in part, Andres Iniesta and Xavi to play their own big roles at times.
Rakitic doesn't just add to the Barcelona brand of quick, short passes but also looks to quickly feed into the front three as often as possible. Critically, he also makes much deeper runs than the other midfielders, getting into the box and beyond the striker to add a penalty area threat and scoring presence.
The Croatian is hard-working, dovetails nicely in midfield with Iniesta and, being such a class player, has allowed Enrique to rotate and bring in a much fresher-than-usual Xavi to have a big impact when needed, too.
19. Sofiane Feghouli, VAL
Earlier, on the Parejo slide, we referenced his passes into the talented wide attackers; now we meet one of them in right-sided Algerian Sofiane Feghouli.
After overcoming an early-season spell where he was in and out of the team, Feghouli found his form and became pivotal to the Valencia team, raiding down the right flank and driving at the opposition box to create chances aplenty and net his share of goals, too.
With centre-forwards not exactly bulging the back of the net with great frequency, Los Che's attacking midfielders became even more important, and Feghouli's consistency in beating his man, attacking the far post and showing great endurance in games was just as vital as his discipline, hard work and ability to drop deeper into midfield.
18. Sergio Asenjo, VIL
Our highest-rated Spanish goalkeeper and second-highest overall, Sergio Asenjo enjoyed a stellar first full season with Villarreal after impressing on loan last year.
The former Atletico Madrid 'keeper is a real all-rounder: strong in the air, a good organiser, excellent in one-on-ones and a true shot-stopper too, all in the mix at once. He was immensely impressive as Villarreal enjoyed a great first half of the season but also kept his level later on when the team in general flopped and lost out on a top-five challenge.
Ending the season on a high would have been the target for Asenjo, having been deservedly called up as Spain's third-choice goalkeeper during the campaign, but injury struck just a few weeks before the end of the year and he'll miss the start of next term as a result.
Worryingly, it is his third torn ACL of his career.
17. Javier Mascherano, FCB
When you have arguably the world's best defensive midfielder at your disposal and don't use him in that role, you can be expected to be criticised, especially if goals are conceded regularly. Neither happened for Barcelona: Javier Mascherano plays at centre-back and they had La Liga's best defensive record for 2014-15.
The Argentinian's recovery speed over short distances, his crunching approach to challenges and his comfort on the ball are all perfectly good reasons for a team who dominate most matches to play him in the back four, though over the second half of the season he did also play a number of games at the base of midfield.
Above all others, it is Mascherano who can be seen and heard barking orders and organising from behind play to ensure the team stays in shape and he who epitomises the spirit and determination the team have shown to win the title.
16. Luka Modric, RMA
The difference at the top of La Liga in the end came down to two points and Real Madrid fans can be forgiven for thinking what might have been had Luka Modric been fit for more of the campaign.
The Croatian played only 16 times all told in La Liga, and it was patently obvious his side were a better mix, a better-balanced team and better at getting the ball from their own half to the attacking penalty box when he was involved.
Sitting deep or driving on into space, Modric controlled play, got his team on the front foot and ensured the attackers had a constant supply line. He was immense last season and not too far short of that this year—he simply wasn't around enough to make it count more.
15. Isco, RMA
One man who was around for Real Madrid's entire season was Isco, with the Spaniard playing in 34 of Real's league games in the end after winning a spot early on with some impressive and inventive performances.
His role varied between central midfield and wide midfield, depending on Carlo Ancelotti's formational switches, but the young attacker won acclaim both for his technical ability and his strong mentality, never being afraid to take on responsibility to create—important in the absence of injured team-mates—and also contributing some spectacular goals.
His form dipped a little over the last two months or so of the season, otherwise he may have pushed for a top-10 spot here, but Isco was still one of La Liga's brightest young players this term and makes Real's transfer outlay on him two years ago a big success.
14. Michael Krohn-Dehli, CEL
Celta Vigo's season was split nicely into three sections: excellent, abysmal and finally once more exciting.
Throughout all of them, Danish midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli was a paragon of consistency and impressive intent, with his metronomic ability to dictate play one of the recognisable traits of the Celta team.
Regularly involved in the final third as Celta created chances by way of their quick passing and clever movement, Krohn-Dehli linked play with tempo and accuracy, often looking down the channels for the wide attackers before attacking from deep himself.
He is off to Sevilla in the summer and will be a fantastic addition to an already quality midfield.
13. Grzegorz Krychowiak, SEV
The third and most important part of the Sevilla midfield, Grzegorz Krychowiak sits at the base in the middle and holds everything together.
The Polish midfielder has proven a fantastic signing this year, a tremendous ball-winner and protector of the back line who also distributes the ball with great ability. His mobility is impressive, his stamina to run games is unending and he'll be a big attraction for many other sides this summer.
Krychowiak, Iborra and Banega have together been a huge force to be reckoned with in La Liga, but it's the first mentioned who has had the biggest overall impact.
12. Gerard Pique, FCB
Gerard Pique started the season out of favour and out of the Barcelona team; he ended it perhaps the most consistently impressive and in-form Spanish outfield player anywhere in world football.
The centre-back has been immense for the Catalan club, showing a level of concentration and determination not often enough associated with him in previous campaigns. He has been a real leader at the back on whom his team have been able to rely not just to pass nicely out of defence but also to make huge, vital challenges, read the game well and use his pace to great covering effect.
Pique's stature as a first choice is indisputable now, and he has also contributed enormously in attack off set pieces.
11. Pablo Piatti, VAL
Valencia's other wide forward, Pablo Piatti, has turned into one of the most exciting and creative attackers in La Liga, playing from the left side of Los Che's attackers.
A great dribbler with tremendous pace, Piatti runs directly at the heart of opposition defences at every opportunity, cutting infield to head toward the box but staying on his left foot whenever possible to aid shooting and crossing chances.
He has also improved immeasurably with his willingness to attack the box when play builds on the opposite side, which has resulted in him being more of a danger in scoring himself, too. A great campaign for Piatti was interrupted only by injury; should he stay fit next term, he'll hope for more of the same in scoring and assisting bundles of goals in an improving side.
10. Nolito, CEL
Into the top 10 we go and the only player to feature from a non-Champions League club is Celta Vigo's Nolito.
The forward's own form largely mirrored that of the team in general, where he struggled and briefly lost his place in a bad run mid-season but either side of that month or so was immense. His runs in off the left flank, his close control and dribbling ability made him a total nightmare for defenders to deal with.
Nolito was part playmaker and part chief goal threat for Celta, an unstoppable talent who was deservedly part of the Spanish squad early on this term. He can go even further with this team who would have finished even higher than eighth were it not for that improbably scoreless mid-season run.
9. Tiago, ATM
Atletico Madrid's top midfield player this year, 34-year-old Tiago had a total renaissance during 2014-15, showing amazing endurance and impressive consistency throughout.
While workman-like performances come as standard for Diego Simeone's men, Tiago brings a touch of quality and composure to proceedings in the final third, finding gaps where others might not see a pass on and adding a few goals of his own from range too.
He's a veteran without any sign of fatigue, an aggressor with a feather-light touch and an almost guaranteed starter for the side who were the reigning La Liga title holders.
8. Antoine Griezmann, ATM
Ahead of Tiago, Antoine Griezmann joined Atletico Madrid last summer and, after a bit of a slow start, set about redefining himself as a predatory and clinical striker.
Normally seen as a winger at former club Real Sociedad, Griezmann has spent the vast majority of this season very much right at the top of a two-man attack, switching with his partner in who drops deeper out of possession but still most certainly a partnership when on the offensive.
Griezmann was lethal inside the area, hitting 22 goals in 29 starts—the majority of them close-range, swept-home finishes as he latched on to set pieces, knock-downs or crosses. A tremendous season for the French forward.
7. Diego Alves, VAL
The best goalkeeper of the 2014-15 Liga season, Brazilian Diego Alves was immense behind his defence and helped his side into the Champions League with a fourth-place finish.
Immense in one-on-one situations, a penalty-saving expert and dominant in the air, Alves' form was unbeatable for months, and he was a huge reason for Los Che being so tough to beat, especially at home where he conceded just 10 goals all season and lost only once, the best home defensive record in the league.
Unfortunately for Alves, like Sergio Asenjo, his season ended with a cruciate knee ligament injury. Alves' occurred on the final day of the season and means he'll miss the Copa America for his nation.
6. Neymar, FCB
Barcelona's much-vaunted front three were exceptional and pivotal in securing the league title for their team, combining power, pace, skill and goals between them, with Neymar our first name out.
The Brazilian scored 22 goals during the league campaign, a much-improved return both in numbers and in consistency of performance from last season. There were times when he was utterly unplayable, driving through defences with his skill and showing terrific movement to link with his fellow attackers.
Stretches of games at a time saw Neymar lacking a clinical touch or failing to get involved in his team's most telling moves; if he can improve on that next term, he'll get a good deal closer to being seen as one of the best in the world as many feel he can be.
For now, though, he's certainly been one of La Liga's top talents, winning more than one game on his own this term.
5. Luis Suarez, FCB
Into the top five we go now and Neymar's team-mate Luis Suarez is our first name, enjoying a debut season to remember in Spain after completing his ban at the beginning of the campaign.
Suarez contributed a phenomenal 30 goals in 27 games this term, almost equally split between scoring and assisting as he jelled perfectly with his team-mates and brought an aggression, a relentlessness and an unpredictable spark to the Barcelona attack.
The Uruguayan No. 9 came up big in the games that mattered, was selfless and clever at the right times and reaffirmed himself as one of the world's top talents.
4. James Rodriguez, RMA
Real Madrid's big summer signing was James Rodriguez and the Colombian repaid plenty of that hefty fee with a series of immense displays.
Only injury stopped him contributing even more to Real's season, but even that setback saw him recover quickly and immediately rediscover top form upon his return; much of the team's best attacking phases saw him heavily involved either with quick, one-touch passing or with his driving runs and shots from range.
Spectacular or simple, clever or concise, James' approach to the game is natural and instinctive, and he makes the entire attack work a lot better when he's on the pitch.
3. Nicolas Otamendi, VAL
Comfortably La Liga's best defender this season, Nicolas Otamendi has scaled heights never seen in his career before and has led Valencia into the Champions League in his first campaign with the club.
Rugged and aggressive, fiercely combative and happy to defend either on the halfway line or on the edge of his own penalty box, Otamendi has been a complete player who has fought for every ball but also picked his moments to surge forward and change the team's tempo from time to time.
The Argentine was a real threat for his team in attack, too, showing his determination both on the deck and in the air to batter in half a dozen goals—more than one of them match-deciding strikes.
He has been untouchable in terms of other players in his position in La Liga and will give his side plenty of reason to believe they can have further success next term.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, RMA
Another season of phenomenal personal achievement for Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't quite be matched by his team.
Real Madrid ended in second place despite the thoroughly ridiculous haul of 48 Liga goals from the Portuguese forward, with his assists added into the picture meaning he contributed a goal on average every 48 minutes of play.
His power, pace, dribbling and, it must be noted at several key stages in matches, selfless play ensured that his team were always a danger in front of goal. He led the attack both through the middle and from the flank, finished as La Liga's Pichichi and only really had one dip in form throughout the campaign, shortly after the turn of the year when he failed to find top gear, was sent off and saw his team struggle for results.
That was quickly put behind him, though, and Ronaldo netted a total of eight hat-tricks during the league season, including one five-goal haul in April and three trebles in his last four matches.
1. Lionel Messi, FCB
For all the brilliance and goals of Ronaldo, Lionel Messi pips him to top spot in our top 50 Liga players ranking.
The Barcelona maestro started the season in good, if not mesmerising form, before blowing up in the second half of the season to demonstrate his total world-class ability and lead the team to the Liga title.
Part playmaker, part decoy, total goalscorer and immensely difficult to mark, most teams opt to pack out the spaces to stop Messi...and he has simply drifted deeper and central to loft passes through and over them instead.
The dribbles have continued, the goals still come in all shapes and types, but his creative spark is more refined than ever and his 18 league assists are testament to that. The now-expected right-to-left cross seems impossible for teams to defend, and his selflessness and sacrifice for the team means that dangerous front three works seamlessly.
Messi went on a run scoring 20 goals in 15 games from the start of February to the start of May to fire Barcelona over the line in the title race, and he has been the best, most complete player of the 2014-15 season to go with it.