La Liga Team of the Week: Bale Saves Real Madrid Chase, Suarez Scores 4 Again
Jornada 35 left La Liga clubs bunched together at the top and bottom of the table, with one point separating the trio of title challengers and the three sides fighting for survival.
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 an offence-minded 4-4-2 including wide attackers, with only the best players in each position selected, leading 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
In slightly surprising fashion, we have a trio of Real Sociedad players at the start of our team after they drew 0-0 at Villarreal.
It was a close game throughout with both teams enjoying spells on top, but La Real's defence proved stronger in both halves of the pitch despite a number of positional rotations𠀔—not for goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, though.
In a week where top-form goalkeepers were in scant supply, both Rulli and opposite number Sergio Asenjo made a few important saves and were confident aerially, but the Argentinian gets the nod for two fine one-on-one stops in the second half.
RB: Joseba Zaldua, RSO
At right-back, Joseba Zaldua completely shut down the fast-paced threat from Villarreal's Samu Castillejo, defending aggressively and using his own reasonable speed to keep tabs as the winger sought to race in behind.
Zaldua was also impressive moving out of the back line into midfield with the ball at his feet, linking nicely with those ahead of him and providing a support option to pass back to, though La Real's tactics of keeping their wide forwards very wide largely prohibited the 23-year-old making ground into the final third.
An all-round strong performance from a player who could be considered a first choice next season.
CB: Aritz Elustondo, RSO
Part of the reason Zaldua hasn't been first choice on the right is Aritz Elustondo, but the young defender moved infield to centre-back this weekend and didn't put a foot wrong.
In fact the 22-year-old was probably the best player on the park overall; he showed great awareness and anticipation to run in behind his team-mates and cover Villarreal's attackers running into space, while he also made an important tackle just outside his own area.
An infrequent, but impressive and interesting, foray into the heart of defence as head coach Eusebio Sacristan prepares for next season.
CB: Lucas Hernandez, ATM
The hardest games left in Atletico Madrid's schedule were against Athletic Club Bilbao and Malaga, and they have now beaten both 1-0.
Lucas Hernandez has filled in admirably in recent weeks, as Atleti's usual centre-backs struggle with injury. Against Malaga was perhaps his best and most dominant performance, where he looked completely at home as an aggressive defender and as a composed reader of the game.
His covering was excellent, he brought the ball out of defence with skill and more than once displayed the tigerish and committed ability to win the ball that the likes of Diego Godin and Josema Gimenez have become known for.
LB: Jordi Alba, FCB
Barcelona stormed to an 8-0 midweek win over Deportivo La Coruna, and then hit another six without reply against Sporting Gijon this weekend to reassert themselves in form and top of La Liga.
There were a number of good performers, but Jordi Alba's constant runs beyond the defensive line were excellent all game and important for his team's capacity to open up the relegation-threatened side with ease.
Alba hasn't been at his best all year, but this was a much more forceful and impactful performance from the left-back, and he gave Barca good tempo and utilised space well.
CM: Koke, ATM
Moving up the pitch, it was a weekend where La Liga viewers were spoiled for choice with attacking talents being in form, but fewer out-and-out central midfielders being on top of their game.
Atletico's Koke has been arguably the league's most in-form midfielder for the past month or two, though, and he continued that from the centre of the park at the weekend, dominating Malaga with his driving runs, superb passing range from deep and the usual work rate and defensive diligence which has made him a leader in the team.
He almost created two or three chances with excellent passes from deep and some good set-piece deliveries, but his all-round game was extremely strong and too much for Malaga to handle.
CM: Jonathan Viera, LPA
Jonathan Viera played a little further forward for Las Palmas than we're utilising him in our team—the most offensive-minded of three players in the centre—but on a weekend when few central midfielders stood out, he deserves credit and attention.
Las Palmas' surge up the table has been impressive, and Viera has more than played his part, showing all his confidence and offensive ability this weekend as they beat Espanyol 4-0 on Friday night.
Viera scored one and set up two more, creating constant danger for his team and sending the promoted side up to ninth place, a fantastic achievement.
RW: Gareth Bale, RMA
Real Madrid's shocking start against Rayo Vallecano left them two goals down and facing a big battle to stay in the title race, and there's no doubt that Gareth Bale was the man who dragged them back into the fight.
The Welshman was prepared to run at defenders, take them on and get shots away or pass and surge into the penalty area to create danger. He also scored the two most vital goals: one to get them back in the game before half-time, and then the winner late on.
His pace and penetration from the right was even more important after Karim Benzema went off injured.
LW: Angel Correa, ATM
Super sub does it again. Angel Correa came on for Atletico Madrid shortly after half-time and such was his impact that we cannot possibly leave him out of the team.
Replacing Yannick Carrasco on the left, Correa immediately set about running the Malaga defence ragged, dribbling into space, creating room for his team-mates and getting shots away quickly—including what turned out to be the winning goal with a low shot into the bottom corner.
He almost scored another and teed up Fernando Torres to kill the game off. Although both those chances were spurned, Diego Simeone's team remain joint top with Barcelona thanks to the win.
CF: Iago Aspas, CEL
Monday night's game saw Celta Vigo boost their top-four hopes with a 2-1 win over Granada, with Iago Aspas netting both goals.
The Spanish forward now has 14 in La Liga this season after this double, with his movement and running behind the defence too much for Granada to handle, particularly after Aspas switched from cutting in off the right side to play through the middle.
His second goal was executed perfectly and means Celta can still hope to catch Villarreal and snatch a UEFA Champions League spot.
CF: Luis Suarez, FCB
Luis Suarez scored four goals in the midweek demolition of Depor and, not content with that, he set about doing exactly the same to Sporting on Saturday.
He and Barcelona had help from awful officiating, but Suarez's movement and finishing was sublime nonetheless: two penalties, one goal from the right side and another from the left of the box.
His work rate and link play was exemplary and his finishing far beyond that of anyone else in Spain—perhaps even Europe—can hope to manage right now. He's top of the scorers charts and keeps Barca top of the table.