La Liga Team of the Week: Koke, Cristiano Ronaldo and Geronimo Rulli All Shine
Jornada 32 in La Liga was a key one in opening back up the title race, with Barcelona once again failing to taste victory at Anoeta and both the challengers from Madrid making up significant ground—and both seeing two players apiece in our selected side.
For our team of the week, we take the best individual displays from Spain's top flight and combine the most impressive player from each position into a viable formation, with our selection process seeing us analyse every game to pick out a star XI from the weekend's fixtures.
This time, we've opted for a 4-4-2 diamond, with only the best players in each position included, leading, as always, to several tough decisions along the way. In addition to individual form, we take into account such factors as opposition quality and overall contribution to the team's display.
GK: Geronimo Rulli, RSO
Geronimo Rulli's legend continues to grow rather quicker than his actual performance level should suggest, and it's because of games like this weekend's. He has consistently found his top level in the big fixture, and the Real Sociedad stopper was superb in the 1-0 win over Barcelona.
Reaction saves from Leo Messi, fantastic stops from top-corner-bound strikes from Andres Iniesta and an absolute assuredness in his handling of high balls meant La Real's No. 1 was unpassable throughout the 90 minutes.
In truth, Rulli is erratic and inconsistent at times, but when he's on form, he's a great watch with his agile form and sharp reflexes—and that was too much for Barcelona's faltering attack on this occasion.
RB: Mario Gaspar, VIL
Villarreal picked up a 2-0 home win over Getafe at the weekend, showing their mettle in both halves of the pitch to defend stoutly and attack with good movement, clever passing and enough end product to take the points and tighten their grip on fourth place.
Right-back Mario Gaspar was one of the star performers in both offensive and defensive aspects, linking and overlapping with regularity down the flank and creating good chances with his smart low crosses and ability to dribble into the box.
Defensively, he was strong, never gave Getafe any leeway and showed again why he is such a consideration to take to Euro 2016 for Spain.
CB: Eric Bailly, VIL
Alongside Mario, Eric Bailly continued his recent good form with a top drawer performance for Villarreal.
While his pace over the ground has at times seen him get away with being out of position in the past, his recent games have been noticeably more impressive, with his starting point, his decision-making and his ongoing penchant for winning the ball in aggressive challenges and in the air.
Getafe found him too much to come anywhere close to the penalty area for most of the game, and he was as responsible as anyone for the clean sheet.
CB: Diego Reyes, RSO
While Rulli starred in goal to make several spectacular saves, the truth is he could have been a lot busier if not for the fantastic work rate and concentration of the 10 outfield players in front of him.
Diego Reyes was restored to a central-defensive role, having played in midfield recently, and the Mexican was simply superb as he held the makeshift back line together, was dominant throughout in cutting out attempted lofted balls into the box and won almost all his key individual battles when one-on-one.
Reyes was also calm in passing out of defence and returned to his early-season form when he was one of La Liga's finest over the opening couple of months.
LB: Guilherme Siqueira, VAL
Valencia picked up a vital 2-1 win against Sevilla at the weekend and deserved the points after a particularly good first half, in which Guilherme Siqueira was a constant marauding threat down the left.
The full-back, on loan from Atletico Madrid, was frequently able to break into space at pace and link play in the channels before breaking on toward Sevilla's penalty box.
In the second half, he was more tested defensively but largely coped with the additional threat of Vitolo and was a key part of the win.
DM: David Zurutuza, RSO
Maybe the hardest-working player on the Anoeta pitch, David Zurutuza's presence has been missed by Real Sociedad for large parts of this season, but he must have come close to making up for those extra kilometres he could have run with his performance against Barcelona.
The holding midfielder was everywhere, chasing down lost causes on the counter, shutting down passing avenues and aggressively challenging Barca's midfielders to force them backward.
Zurutuza protected his defence at every turn, won direct duels with the likes of Arda Turan and Leo Messi and embodied the team performance that secured the 1-0 win.
RM: Koke, ATM
It's two weeks in a row in our team of the week for Koke, who is on his best run of form of the season and is driving Atletico Madrid back into the title challenge.
The scheming midfielder reprised his right-sided role against Espanyol and made use of his freedom to roam infield, being a constant menace with his clever passes through to the front line, landing two assists in the process—the second, for Antoine Griezmann, was sublime with his quick footwork and perfectly weighted pass.
Koke wrapped up the 3-1 win by surging into the box and scoring himself at the near post to highlight his own confidence and importance over the remainder of the campaign.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo, RMA
Real Madrid would have beaten Eibar by six or seven goals with ease if they had kept their foot on the gas throughout the match, but it was over by half-time and they have a big week ahead, so the drop-off was natural.
In the first 45, though, Eibar couldn't live with the pace, direct running and ability to link of the front three, with the only regular starter, Cristiano Ronaldo, the star of the piece. He was terrific with the timing of his runs and his ability to constantly outstrip the full-backs, and he was also selfless when inside the box, laying on two goals when he could easily have shot for goal himself.
As it was, Ronaldo also found the net for the third goal—just 20 minutes into the match—to reach 30 for the league season, managing the milestone for the sixth consecutive campaign in La Liga.
AM: Santi Mina, VAL
There were plenty of candidates for the attacking-midfield role, including James Rodriguez and Dani Ceballos, but Valencia's Santi Mina was another who really impressed for Los Che.
Although nominally occupying a wide role in the attack, Mina continually found space between the lines by drifting infield into territory where Sevilla couldn't mark him, turning toward goal and playing in passes or driving into the penalty box himself.
He was a constant threat on goal, struck the post with one fine low shot and seemed to never give the ball away—a check on WhoScored.com revealed that to almost literally be the case, finishing with a 97 percent pass success rate, an excellent tally for a final-third player.
CF: Jese, RMA
There were two alternative considerations for the centre-forward position: Sergio Araujo of Las Palmas and Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal.
It's Real Madrid's Jese who deservedly takes the spot, though, and few could argue against it, with the pacy attacker putting himself right in the frame to replace Karim Benzema in the must-win UEFA Champions League game on Tuesday.
Jese was superb with his off-the-ball movement, his pace to exploit Eibar's defensive gaps and his timing of when to release the ball to his team-mates. He scored one, made another and put in arguably his best performance of the campaign.
CF: Fernando Torres, ATM
Following team-mate Koke, Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres also makes our team of the week for the second time in succession after another scintillating display leading the attack.
The in-form striker, chasing a new contract with the club, was predatory in his movement and direct running toward goal right from kick-off, almost scoring a wonderful solo goal but striking the woodwork.
He wasn't to be denied, though, finishing one move for the opening goal and later setting up the killer third with a run and cut-back from the byline, putting in a complete performance over the 90 minutes.