La Liga Player Rankings: Messi and Ronaldo Surge, Two Big New Names into Top 20
Our top 20 players in La Liga are here for good reason: consistently fine performances and showing their importance to their team. Jornada 24 was one of those where almost all of them displayed their best traits and proved just why they are featured here—and it means sharp drops for the small handful who didn't perform.
As usual, we have analysed each game to update our player rankings; the rankings are based on players' last six games and are continually updated throughout the season, with slightly more emphasis placed on their most recent outing.
Only Liga performances are counted, and typically, one-week wonders do not find their way in—instead, see our Team of the Week for the top performers over a single weekend.
We look beyond the statistical measures and into the performance, reviewing tape to gauge impact.
It's not just goals, assists and heroic clearances that impress; it's about how a player contributes to the tactical plan at hand and what impact he has over the entire 90-minute period.
Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Andres Fernandez of Granada both drop out this week, meaning two new faces for inclusion.
Those on the fringes of our top 20 have shown good consistency and the odd standout performance—the first three names in particular are unlucky that most of our 20 this week were particularly impressive.
Borja Baston, EIB
Pedro Mosquera, DEP
Gerard Pique, FCB
Javier Mascherano, FCB
Iago Aspas, CEL
Dani Carvajal, RMA
Alphonse Areola, VIL
James Rodriguez, RMA
Ones to watch
Not normally part of the top-20 remit, we have a small handful of players who have only just begun to play in La Liga—and have hit the ground running.
We'll note them here for now, but the number of games played means they have a few more weeks to go before they can be considered for entry...but watch this space.
Charly Musonda, BET
Diego Alves, VAL
Mikel Oyarzabal, RSO
20. Andres Iniesta, FCB
Back into our 20 after a lengthy absence, Andres Iniesta has been in imperious form of late for Barcelona, skippering the side back to the top of the table.
His touch and movement against Celta Vigo at the weekend was of the highest order, creating plenty of chances for his side. In the first half particularly, he drove forward in the left channel, combined with Neymar and left Celta's defenders dumbfounded with his footwork.
Iniesta rarely plays the full 90 in La Liga, but the impression he leaves on games lasts far longer.
19. Roberto Soldado, VIL
Roberto Soldado is a hugely important player for Villarreal and, putting his goal tally to one side, he should be considered as an option for Spain's squad for UEFA Euro 2016 if one of the main three are unable to make the tournament.
Goals, unfortunately, continue to elude him on a consistent basis—his winner this weekend was his first in nine games—and that will go against him in the populist stakes.
Even so, his work rate and aggression, his first touch and link play with his fellow attackers have been excellent all season. A deserved re-inclusion in our 20.
18. Ignacio Camacho, MGA
In a competitive environment like our top 20, a single poor performance can have big consequences, and Nacho Camacho's drop is a prime example.
He was exposed and overrun in midfield at the weekend as Malaga were cut apart by Villarreal in the first hour or so, constantly bypassed by quick passing moves and intelligent running in the spaces behind him.
After the break he—and Malaga—improved, but it wasn't a game Camacho could dominate, up against Bruno Soriano and Manu Trigueros.
17. Sergio Busquets, FCB
Sergio Busquets was largely impressive in his role as holding midfielder for Barcelona against Celta Vigo, but he was bypassed a number of times in the first half as the home side counter-attacked to good effect.
His ability to break play up was negated when the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos club attacked down the flanks behind Barca's full-backs, but he was able to win back possession in the middle, push forward with passes between the lines at times and help Barca stay on the front foot.
The midfielder remains integral to the Catalan side's title hopes.
16. Toni Kroos, RMA
No movement this week for Toni Kroos, who was impressive for the most part in Real Madrid's win over Athletic Club Bilbao, but endured enough difficulty in protecting the defence at times to not warrant a rise up the charts.
The German was neat on the ball and helped Real remain on the offensive for most of the game, playing searching passes from deep toward the front three, while his set-piece delivery was also an impressive aspect once again. He also scored from a rare foray into the box, a reminder that he was once one of the best attacking forces in Europe.
Athletic's ability to counter in numbers meant Kroos was a little exposed for agility and recovery pace at times, but he still made a few challenges outside the box and was able to receive possession off his defenders to relieve the pressure.
15. Koke, ATM
Atletico Madrid were in full battle mode this weekend, taking the lead early on against Getafe and then defending deep and in numbers for long stretches.
That meant Koke, playing on both sides of midfield, was heavily involved both on the defensive and offensive fronts, protecting the back line with a series of challenges but also able to pass quickly and support resulting counter-attacks.
It wasn't a pretty performance by Koke or his team in general, but he was certainly important and effective.
14. Cristiano Ronaldo, RMA
Arguably Cristiano Ronaldo's most complete performance in some time, the Real Madrid man was effective in the extreme from the first whistle to the last in the 4-2 win over Athletic Club.
The No. 7 opened the scoring early on with a phenomenal rifled effort into the top corner, added another late in the match to end Real's scoring and secure the points, and he even laid off an assist for Kroos' goal.
Ronaldo's running and use of space was relentless and impressive throughout, and the team will be hoping he carries this form into the last third of the season.
13. Antoine Griezmann, ATM
A big drop for Atleti forward Antoine Griezmann, who worked hard but was largely missing in action in terms of any tangible output in the final third.
Atletico's best chances came—after the first-minute goal at least—from set pieces or counter-attacks where the midfielders ran beyond the attacker; in this respect, Griezmann was at best a willing runner and a decoy, at worst simply bypassed in Atletico's infrequent forays forward.
The French forward is four Liga games without a goal.
12. Josema Gimenez, ATM
Atletico's defence was the rock that the result was built on, with Josema Gimenez central to an impervious display.
The Uruguayan was solid and reliable, winning the ball back with the occasional big challenge while also putting himself in the right position with great frequency, chesting the ball down, passing out of the back line and covering behind the full-back on more than one occasion.
Gimenez has been in immaculate form of late and is a huge part of Atleti's good defensive record.
11. Karim Benzema, RMA
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was a busy player with his movement across the front line against Athletic, but he found it tough to get into scoring chances despite the amount of counters his team created.
The French forward registered an assist for Ronaldo's first goal of the game with a short pass into the area, but he was a peripheral figure at times, involved in build-up play but not getting close to goal often enough to threaten.
Benzema's importance is such that a game or two without end product doesn't diminish his role in the Real attack.
10. Lucas Perez, DEP
Deportivo La Coruna recorded yet another draw this weekend—a 14th of the season and fifth in a row in La Liga—2-2 against Real Betis on this occasion.
Not on the scoresheet this time but no less important was key centre-forward Lucas Perez, the non-stop bundle of energy and aggression who continues to enjoy the finest season of his carer.
Lucas recorded assists for both goals, setting up Alex and Faycal Fajr to ensure Depor avoided defeat once more.
9. Lionel Messi, FCB
Lionel Messi hasn't been at his very best all season, but when he turns it on, there's no stopping him.
Celta Vigo were the unfortunate mortals put in the way of the Ballon d'Or winner when he hit top gear at the weekend and his skill, acceleration and vision was simply too much to handle.
Messi was involved in plenty of the six goals his team scored, including getting the game up and running with a top-corner free-kick.
8. Victor Ruiz, VIL
Villarreal continued their impressive run in La Liga with a 1-0 win over Malaga, leaving them firm favourites for fourth place with an eight-point cushion down to fifth.
Victor Ruiz had an extremely solid game at the back, passing the ball out well in the first half before being called upon more frequently after the break to repel Malaga as they attempted to claw back the one-goal deficit.
As ever, Ruiz was strong both aerially and on the ground, and his consistency in defence this season has made him one of the league's standout defenders.
7. Diego Godin, ATM
Alongside Gimenez was Diego Godin, restored after a one-game suspension to the heart of the Atletico Madrid defence.
The elder Uruguayan was his usual self: dominant aerially when he needed to be, always on hand to muscle out a forward inside the box and aggressive in stepping out of the defensive line to clear away through passes or stop an attacker dribbling freely.
La Liga's best pure defender for the season as a whole so far; as long as Atleti have Godin and Gimenez playing well, they still have a shot at the title.
6. Mateo Musacchio, VIL
Ruiz was perhaps the slightly more impressive on the day, but his central-defensive partner Mateo Musacchio wasn't far behind.
The aggressive Argentinian was strong in one-on-one duels and impressed against Malaga's set-piece threat, though he also showed his recovery pace and ability to defend the wider areas well when the opposition attack overloaded the channels.
Musacchio's excellent return to form and fitness continues.
5. Saul Niguez, ATM
Saul Niguez returned to the heart of Atletico's midfield after a one-match sojourn at centre-back and was largely good in his display, though it was more one of physical endurance and concentration rather than technical proficiency.
Playing as one of the double pivot, he was often tracking back to protect the defence and didn't have too much opportunity to display his good footwork and turn of pace in the attacking third, though one burst forward almost resulted in a scoring chance.
Saul's run in the first team now extends to starting 12 Liga games in a row, and he has been the most impressive outfielder at the club in that time, which is no small feat.
4. Luka Modric, RMA
Another small step forward for Luka Modric, a big performer for Real Madrid in the 4-2 win over Athletic Club.
The Croatian was extremely busy in the centre, trying to aid a notably high press for his team to stop the Basque side lifting direct passes beyond Real's midfield line, but he also showed his usual skill and intelligence when in possession.
It wasn't Modric's most direct and creative game ever in the final third, but with the front three in good form, it didn't need to be—he was the supply line to them from deeper and offered a recycling option when Athletic had numbers back.
3. Neymar, FCB
Spoiler alert: The podium places remain the same this week.
Neymar showed flashes of genius and impudence for Barcelona as they eventually demolished Celta 6-1, with the Brazilian netting the last goal after a typical moment of pace and control—but there will be those who say he should have found a way to goal earlier.
Still, the Brazilian had one nicked on the line by team-mate Luis Suarez and was the intended recipient of that penalty, and his overall game contributed plenty to the three points.
2. Jan Oblak, ATM
Another game, another clean sheet.
Jan Oblak is the best-protected man in La Liga but, even so, he usually has to pull off a few saves of his own to keep the opposition out. Not so this week as Getafe dominated territory without creating any chances of note, with the Slovenian goalkeeper doing well to take high balls and command his box but without the worry of shots on goal.
The Atletico man kept his 15th clean sheet of the season in 24 Liga games—his 19th in 30 in all competitions.
1. Luis Suarez, FCB
Still top of the charts and no wonder: Luis Suarez plundered a hat-trick at the weekend, claimed two direct assists and won the free-kick for the other goal, not a bad return in a 6-1 win.
The striker showcased all his best traits in front of goal; opportunism, timing and a great first touch were among them, not to mention composure under pressure.
Suarez is top scoring with 23 goals in La Liga this term and kept his side top of the table with a fantastic display—from both an individual and team perspective.