Power Ranking Every Real Madrid Player from the 2015-16 La Liga Season

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2016

Power Ranking Every Real Madrid Player from the 2015-16 La Liga Season

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    Second. Again. 

    For Real Madrid, it's becoming all too familiar at this time of year to watch their eternal rivals parade La Liga's trophy through the streets of Barcelona. On Sunday, for the sixth time in eight years, the Catalans did just that, celebrating the latest title in their decade of dominance following Saturday's 3-0 victory over Granada

    "Barcelona deserved to win La Liga," admitted Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane after his side's 2-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna on the same day, "but you've got to take your hat off to what we've done."

    What Zidane and his players have done is manage to turn around a season that had been gripped by chaos and institutional turmoil, pushing Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to the wire in a way that had once looked unlikely. 

    In doing so, Madrid have seen a significant shift unfold, their form strong, the mood surrounding them suddenly positive. Indeed, the storming late run serves as something to build upon, but as ever at Madrid, when you look back, you see as much self-inflicted damage as anything else. 

    As such, it's second. Again. 

    Across the following slides, we power rank Real Madrid's players for the 2015-16 season in La Liga.

Notes on the Rankings

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    The rankings across the following slides have been determined primarily on form across the duration of the season.

    Also factored in is the number of appearances made by each player, with lasting form across an extended period carrying added weight. 

    Additionally, these rankings are based on performances in La Liga only, and thus displays in the UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey are irrelevant here.

24. Marcos Llorente

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    Given that we're including in these rankings every player who made at least one appearance for Real Madrid in La Liga this season, Marcos Llorente starts us off at No. 24. 

    In October, the Castilla midfielder made two brief substitute appearances at home against Levante and Las Palmas (a combined 23 minutes), and though supporters will have seen very little of him, the 21-year-old—along with Borja Mayoral—looks among the most likely from the B team to make a breakthrough at senior level.

23. Denis Cheryshev

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    When Denis Cheryshev was recalled by Real Madrid last summer after loan spells at Villarreal and Sevilla, he will have known playing time was going to be difficult to come by. 

    And yet he probably didn't envisage this: two substitute appearances, 33 league minutes, an ill-fated start against Cadiz and yet another loan move, this time to Valencia.

22. Alvaro Arbeloa

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    The ovation was strong, a giant shirt with his name and number was unveiled in the stands, and his team-mates threw him into the air. His kids were present, too, and fans gathered behind the goal afterwards to say goodbye. 

    For Alvaro Arbeloa, his farewell to Real Madrid in his last game at the Bernabeu against Valencia was a nice way to go. "Every Real Madrid player deserves this kind of send-off," quipped Iker Casillas. He's right. 

    From a playing perspective, though, the 2015-16 season will have been a somewhat frustrating one for Arbeloa.

    Due to the arrival of Danilo, the homegrown right-back was third in the pecking order at his position, seeing him make just two starts all season and exert little impact in his final campaign at the club.

21. Borja Mayoral

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    It was a bold move in February when Zinedine Zidane threw Borja Mayoral into the heat of the Madrid derby at the Bernabeu, but it did seem to convey a message: Mayoral is here to stay. 

    After a sparkling campaign with Real Madrid Castilla, the young striker was awarded a handful of chances amid Karim Benzema's injury absence and showed enough to suggest he's on his way to being a first-team regular. 

    Against Atletico, he wasn't at all overawed by the occasion and in his next game against Levante essentially scored the second of Madrid's three goals (it bounced in off the post and the goalkeeper's back). 

    Possessing neat finishing, strong dribbling skills and an ability to use both feet, Mayoral is one to watch in the coming seasons.

20. Kiko Casilla

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    It now seems an extremely long time ago that Kiko Casilla was in a pre-season tussle for prominence with Keylor Navas following his move from Espanyol. 

    At the time, many wondered whether Casilla's size and aerial prowess might give a new dimension to Madrid in defence, but it hasn't unfolded that way. Instead, Navas won the battle and has been extraordinary. Casilla has largely sat on the bench and watched on. 

    In the league, the 29-year-old made only four appearances this season, one of them a difficult outing at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan when Madrid collapsed against Sevilla. 

    Casilla, though, can feel buoyed by his excellent showing against Valencia in the season's penultimate week, when his six saves (two of them were particularly brilliant) prolonged his club's fight until the final day.

19. Nacho

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    Year after year, nothing really changes for Nacho. 

    Just as he's done for his entire Real Madrid career, the academy product spent 2015-16 in a spare-parts existence, filling in wherever necessary across the defensive line. 

    In total, he made 12 starts (16 appearances overall) and spent time deputising for Marcelo at left-back and covering the plethora of injuries Madrid suffered among their centre-back crop. 

    When used in the heart of the back four, the 26-year-old did lack a forceful element to his game and looked a little passive at times, but out wide, he was neat and tidy without being spectacular. 

18. Danilo

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    On his own, he says so much about Real Madrid: the needless spending, the colossal and complicating sums, the political pressures and the habit for getting in their own way. 

    When Danilo was bought for €31.5 million from Porto last summer, immediately it looked problematic, and it turned out that way. Despite his obvious talents in attack, the Brazilian showed himself to be defensively flawed all season, unable to track runners or stay in front of mazy dribblers.

    Time after time, wingers took advantage of him—Nolito, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Neymar, Rodrigo and Bebe just to name a few—but still he was awarded plenty of playing time because of the implied political pressure his price tag exerts.

    For Madrid, his case serves as another lesson, and for now, Dani Carvajal is the superior option at right-back. 

    And it's not even close.

17. Mateo Kovacic

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    The 2015-16 season started quite brightly for Mateo Kovacic, who immediately brought something to Real Madrid after his arrival from Inter Milan last summer. 

    Energetic, crisp with his passing and possessing an immaculate touch, the Croatian featured regularly in a variety of roles under former manager Rafa Benitez but then saw his season fizzle out after the appointment of Zinedine Zidane.

    From Zidane, that was primarily due to his settling on a very defined midfield—Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco initially, with Casemiro later replacing the Spaniard—but what also counted against Kovacic was the uncertainty of exactly what he is. 

    Indeed, though he's very versatile, the 22-year-old is a bit of everything without really being anything. He doesn't look like the anchor type, but there are also questions of how he fits further forward. 

    He needs to find a niche.

16. Jese

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    Another year, another season sitting behind those three. 

    For Jese, 2015-16 involved playing back-up to Madrid's superstar forwards once again. Despite making 28 appearances in the league overall, only seven of them were starts, and it's hard to see how that will change anytime soon. 

    Positively for Jese, though, there were some flashes of brilliance throughout the campaign—his finish against Levante stands out—while he also established himself as one of Zinedine Zidane's go-to men off the bench in the second half of the season after struggling for minutes under Rafa Benitez.

15. Sergio Ramos

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    Sergio Ramos this low? Really?

    Given the Real Madrid captain's recent form, a position of No. 15 might initially clang, but it's important to recognise that Ramos' standout performances of late have come in the Champions League against Wolfsburg and Manchester City and not in La Liga, which is the sole focus here. 

    For Ramos, league form was a problem for the whole season. In the opening months of the campaign, he was hampered by consistent injury problems, and he never really got going as a result.

    Against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the season's first half, he was chaotic and messy. Against Celta Vigo, he was strangely passive as Keylor Navas bailed him and others out, while against Villarreal, his positioning was puzzling. 

    More recently, he was sent off against Barcelona and Las Palmas, while against Valencia he again showed that he and Raphael Varane have some work to do on their dynamic as a pairing. 

    Often this season, Real Madrid looked more secure without Ramos than they did with him, but as he often does, he's coming good at the right time on the European stage.

14. James Rodriguez

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    Like Gareth Bale before him, James Rodriguez has watched everything turn sour in his second season at Real Madrid. 

    Coming off a sparkling debut campaign in the Spanish capital, the Colombian was expected to go to another level again in 2015-16, but circumstances have worked against him: First he returned late after international duty, then he got injured, and then he became an awkward fit in the system as Rafa Benitez looked to give the team a more powerful profile.

    Steadily, he was pushed to the periphery, and he never really recovered. 

    Despite the numbers still being reflective of a reasonable season—seven goals, eight assists and 2.3 key passes per game, per WhoScored.com, suggest he's still had an impact—watching James has been an uncomfortable experience this season. He's lacked spark and energy and has looked affected by the swirl of negativity and questions that have surrounded him.

    If he needs encouragement, though, he can look to Bale for an example of how things can turn around.

13. Raphael Varane

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    The 2015-16 season has felt like one of stagnation for Raphael Varane. 

    At the beginning of it, the Frenchman was expected to finally cement a starting role after four seasons as an understudy to Sergio Ramos and Pepe, but instead he's spent the season sharing the duties and recently has been pushed back to the bench for the biggest occasions. 

    As such, Varane doesn't feel like the best young defender in the world at present. For so long, he's carried that title, but Jose Gimenez at Atletico Madrid has pinched from him for the time being. 

    The issue for Varane seems to be that his game has become a little one-dimensional. Relying too heavily on his pace and his extraordinary recovery skills, the 23-year-old hasn't yet rounded out his game. He still lacks force and presence. His intensity comes and goes. His on-field relationship with Ramos needs work. 

    This hasn't been the season most expected Varane to have.

12. Isco

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    Given the stylistic similarities, it's not surprising that Isco has endured a similar season to James Rodriguez. 

    When Rafa Benitez was appointed last summer, Isco, like James, immediately struck as an awkward fit in a Benitez team. Despite his burst to prominence under Carlo Ancelotti the previous season, the Spaniard and his skill set didn't align with the Madrileno's desire to create a more powerful, physical side.

    Inevitably, then, the playmaker was gradually pushed out of the side, and in the month before Zinedine Zidane replaced Benitez, Isco completed all of 12 minutes in a Madrid shirt. 

    For a short time after that, he looked set to become a key component of Zidane's outfit, the Frenchman initially using him as a left-sided connector in his preferred midfield three. Briefly, Isco sparkled in that role, but the Madrid derby in February brought about change, seeing Casemiro introduced and Isco relegated to a secondary role again.

11. Lucas Vazquez

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    Real Madrid had just defeated Levante, and in an otherwise uninspired display, Lucas Vazquez had shone. 

    "Zizou's dream?" said Marca. "A team full of 11 players like Lucas."

    Industrious, disciplined and increasingly incisive, the winger who is a coach's dream has become a clear favourite of Zidane. Though he only made 10 league starts (25 appearances overall), his finish to the season has been extremely impressive, with crucial goals arriving against Villarreal and Rayo Vallecano, as well as an assist for Gareth Bale's winner against Real Sociedad

    Due to his work rate and reliably, Vazquez has also been the man to whom Zidane has turned when one of Madrid's star forwards has been missing, edging ahead of Jese and James Rodriguez in the pecking order.

10. Toni Kroos

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    Recently, Toni Kroos has looked like himself again, and that in itself is significant. 

    For a long time this season, the German looked completely lost and nothing like the smooth conductor he'd operated as in 2014-15. Under Rafa Benitez, Kroos was repositioned over and over, seeing him play as an anchor, on the left and right of a midfield three, in a holding pair and as a roaming No. 10. 

    It didn't work. The former Bayern Munich star looked devoid of clarity, purpose and conviction, and by December, he was on the bench.

    Then briefly, Kroos rediscovered a degree of his form when Zinedine Zidane returned him to the role he'd played under Carlo Ancelotti, but it wasn't until he was freed up to the left of Casemiro that he began to look like himself again—the smooth and efficient version of Kroos who passes, probes, dribbles and shoots with an alluring serenity.

9. Pepe

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    So we didn't expect this: Pepe as Real Madrid's highest-ranked central defender.

    But here he is. 

    It says quite a lot about the sort of seasons Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have had that Pepe, with a solid but not brilliant campaign, has comfortably been his team's standout centre-back in 2015-16.

    Having tempered his rash streak considerably, the Portuguese has been steady and reliable for Zinedine Zidane and has been the manager's preferred choice in the crunch affairs. 

    Of course, Pepe is still far from perfect, but with more grunt than Varane and having been neater than the erratic Ramos, the veteran has stood out in a season in which his playing time was expected to fall away significantly.

8. Dani Carvajal

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    If not for a number of injuries and his needless sharing of duties with Danilo, Dani Carvajal might be a few spots higher in these rankings. 

    Indeed, when the Spaniard has played this season (he only made 19 league starts), he's been among Real Madrid's very finest. Disciplined, attentive, fast on his feet and incisive going forward, Carvajal has become one of the leading full-backs in world football, the two-way nature of his game striking. 

    Since Zinedine Zidane's appointment, the right-back has been particularly impressive, with his overlapping runs and pinpoint crosses and pull-backs standing as key elements in the team's attacking fluency. 

    Bleacher Report's tactics guru Sam Tighe hasn't stopped raving about him.

7. Marcelo

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    Little ever changes with Marcelo: He bombs forward, that hair bobs along and critics say he can't defend. 

    Those critics often have a point, but the extent of the Brazilian's influence on this team remains immense. In La Liga this season, the left-back made 1,742 passes—only Toni Kroos and Luka Modric spent more time on the ball at Real Madrid, per WhoScored.com—and in a system that's somewhat lopsided because Cristiano Ronaldo starts on the wing but spends more time in central areas, his presence is vital.

    Indeed, without Marcelo, Madrid lose much of their fluency and creativity, and though he's vulnerable to counter-attacks, it's a trade-off Madrid willingly accept.

6. Casemiro

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    He only made 17 league starts this season, but you could argue he's the team's key figure. 

    Since Real Madrid's defeat to Atletico Madrid in late February, the presence of Casemiro at the base of Zinedine Zidane's midfield has been one of the major catalysts in Madrid's storming late run. With his positional awareness, defensive mindset and ball-winning skills, the Brazilian has given Los Blancos structure and a sense of balance that was previously missing. 

    What Casemiro does, his team-mates can't replicate. He fights, scraps and works relentlessly. There's little glamour to his game. 

    But that's precisely what Madrid need; he's the antithesis of so many around him.

5. Luka Modric

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    It took the Bernabeu quite a long time to embrace Luka Modric, but now it has. Completely. It adores him.

    And 2015-16 might be his best season yet.

    After an injury hit campaign in 2014-15, the Croatian has entrenched himself as a sort of centrepiece at Real Madrid. In midfield, he looks like a leader, a standard-bearer. "Indispensable" was how Sergio Ramos put it after Modric's crucial winner in February against Granada. 

    When you watch Modric, what strikes is both the artistry and the collective conscience. His touch and his passing are immaculate—those curling and devastating outside-of-the-boot passes are among the best sights in the game—but he's also prepared to get his hands dirty and help out in defence, a team-first ethic always evident. 

    Earlier in the season, Modric did experience some difficulties amid the team's structural issues, but in the season's second half, he was outstanding.

4. Karim Benzema

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    Never before has Karim Benzema looked this lethal. This convincing. This dominant.

    Despite the off-field issues that have surrounded him, Benzema has enjoyed his best-ever season at Real Madrid in 2015-16. 

    In La Liga, the Frenchman reached 24 goals in just 26 starts, and so often his goals were the big ones: openers, winners, strikes against the heavyweights. 

    Additionally, Benzema continues to be systematically vital in between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. He's the one who connects it all together, who gives Madrid a reference point and a fulcrum to play around.

3. Gareth Bale

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    Quite a turnaround, huh?

    For Gareth Bale, the 2014-15 season could barely have gone worse, but in 2015-16, his personal form could barely have been better. 

    Though injuries have consistently interrupted him, Bale stormed to 19 league goals in just 21 starts this season and now looks like the player Madrid always wanted him to be. 

    Carrying conviction and authority, looking empowered and full of belief, the Welshman has thrown off the timid disposition that blighted his second season at the Bernabeu to show that this team will soon be his. 

    The evidence: When Cristiano Ronaldo was out injured against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad, no one was left in any doubt as to who was boss.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    In the first half of the season, you could have argued that Cristiano Ronaldo hadn't been in Real Madrid's best handful of players. 

    Under Rafa Benitez, he just didn't look right. Frustrated, detached, lacking explosion and swagger, the Portuguese seemed as though he was in the early stages of decline. 

    "Bad Vibes," said Marca

    But then something changed. Suddenly he got quicker again, more dynamic and more powerful. The appointment of Zinedine Zidane appeared to help, but it's as if Ronaldo has rebelled against what many thought was coming for him.

    And the results have been spectacular: the brilliant hat-trick against Espanyol, the assault on Athletic Bilbao, the eruption against Celta Vigo, the running over the top of Barcelona and the braces against Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna. 

    In total, 35 goals in 36 starts. 

    Bonkers.

1. Keylor Navas

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    So here we are: Keylor Navas at No. 1. 

    It's incredible to think that Navas was minutes away from being a Manchester United player last August, when the deal to bring David De Gea to Real Madrid was botched. Since then, the Costa Rican's response has been phenomenal. 

    Game after game, he's bailed others out, his highlight reel of diving saves, penalty stops and dashes off his line immense in its length. 

    Of course, the visuals of it all have been striking, but perhaps most telling is the consistency. Even as Madrid's form has fluctuated throughout the season, as others have endured difficulties, Navas' form has barely wavered and has stood as the one constant of Madrid's season.

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