Ranking Every Player for Real Madrid in 2016/17 Campaign
Zinedine Zidane guided Real Madrid to the 2016/17 La Liga title, continuing his incredible, trophy-laden start as boss since taking over in January 2016.
While plenty of credit goes the manager's way, it's the players who have done the business on the pitch—some to a greater extent than others, some with more frequency and consistency, but each playing a role throughout the season.
It could get even better for Real too, with the UEFA Champions League final still ahead, against Juventus.
Here we look back over the campaign and rank the players who took to the pitch for Los Blancos, ordered according to their contributions against each other but also against what they proved capable of during previous seasons.
=24. Fringe Members
Four of Madrid's younger players featured across the campaign for smaller amounts of game time, testament to their progress but also to how much work still lies ahead if they are to become regulars.
Ruben Yanez: The 23-year-old goalkeeper played once, for 14 minutes.
Martin Odegaard: The 18-year-old Norwegian prodigy made one 90-minute appearance before leaving on loan in January.
Enzo Fernandez: Zidane's eldest son made his senior debut this season and even managed to score in his 44-minute appearance.
Alvaro Tejero: Castilla's 20-year-old full-back played twice, totalling 92 minutes.
23. Fabio Coentrao
Into the senior squad, and it could barely have been a worse return to the Santiago Bernabeu for Fabio Coentrao.
Once the most sought-after offensive full-back in European football, his injuries took a long time to overcome, his form was disastrous and he played just three times in La Liga.
Coentrao played 90 minutes just once and will surely exit the club for good this summer.
22. Kiko Casilla
The campaign started well for backup stopper Kiko Casilla; he helped win the UEFA Super Cup and started the Liga campaign between the sticks, but his erratic form and usual failings soon came to the fore.
He's reliable enough as a No. 2, a decent all-rounder without any particular standout, elite traits. And a total haul of 19 appearances—with 11 of those games coming in La Liga—is more than respectable.
But he'll never be Real's No. 1, and this year might be as good as it gets for the former Espanyol man.
21. Mariano Diaz
Nudging ahead of Casilla by impact, if not game time, is Dominican striker Mariano Diaz.
He opted to stay and fight for minutes rather than leave on loan for regular football, and although he only amassed 302 minutes in all competitions, it's likely his decision has been justified.
Big impacts off the bench and a five-goal haul, including a vital strike in La Liga against Deportivo La Coruna, will make teams aware of his capabilities and talents. He should leave the Bernabeu, but it can be on his terms now.
This was likely the 34-year-old Pepe's final campaign in La Liga, and it certainly didn't compare to 2015/16 in terms of individual form, but he has undoubtedly been one of the team's leaders over the years.
Injuries wrecked his chances of a sustained run in the team, but he captained the side more than once and still played a part this term when Real were short of defensive options.
A lucrative move abroad no doubt awaits.
19. Lucas Vazquez
If there's one player in the squad Zidane trusts implicitly to do any job required, it's Lucas Vazquez.
The winger made the most appearances of any Real player this season, a huge 50 (before the Champions League final), yet so many of those were late substitute appearances that he ranks 12th in terms of game time.
And that's what he is: Real's 12th man. Need to stretch play? Lucas is your man. Double up down the wing defensively? Still Lucas.
Unfortunately, his impact off the bench hasn't been as consistent or dramatic as it was in 2015/16, which saw him win a place in the Spain squad at the European Championship, but he has had his moments. A good squad member, an important one tactically but not a thoroughly impressive season on an individual level.
2015/16 was largely horrible for Danilo, so it's testament to his mentality and willingness to stick it out at the Bernabeu that he has enjoyed two particularly good spells this season.
It has still been an overall year of inconsistency and too many mistakes to challenge Dani Carvajal as a first XI option, but at least Zidane hasn't been afraid to pick him.
As an outlet and cover on both sides of defence, Danilo has done a job, and his end-of-season form picked up enough for there not to be outrageous concerns about how he'll deal with Juventus' wide threat in the Champions League final.
He's nowhere near the level Real hoped for when they splashed out on him in 2015, but it was a season of improvement all the same.
17. James Rodriguez
James Rodriguez is utterly impossible to gauge as a success or failure.
Zidane clearly doesn't rate him highly enough to rely on him as a first XI player, and he made sporadic appearances in La Liga, but when given the chance, the Colombian is at times irrepressible.
It's hard to say the No. 10 doesn't take his opportunities. He netted more goals than comparable position rivals who played more minutes, ranked joint-fourth for goals scored and joint-third for assists in the squad across all competitions—despite ranking 19th for minutes played.
Against all that, he hasn't had meaningful action in Europe since the round of 16, barely played in the FIFA Club World Cup and totalled five games in La Liga wherein he played the full 90 minutes.
He's surely off in summer after another year of frustration, but it's hard to put the blame on James or on Zidane, who has clearly got his selections right most of the time. This is simply a match of player and club that doesn't fit.
16. Gareth Bale
It hasn't been Gareth Bale's year at all, despite starting 2016/17 with a goal just two minutes into the season.
He initially played an important part, with other key forwards missing through injury, but it wasn't long before the Welshman's fitness issues derailed his season. A 17-game absence with an ankle issue midway through the campaign saw him miss out on the Club World Cup, El Clasico and pivotal Champions League games, and after returning, he didn't hit top form.
Between that injury and the next, a calf problem that saw him miss the entire title run-in, Bale played eight league games, scored twice, missed four further matches, was sent off and then sat out the remainder of the campaign.
He's capable of a lot more, but this season has been a disappointment—and to top it all off, the change in formation during his latest absence means he doesn't automatically have a role to slot back into when he returns.
15. Karim Benzema
A starting Real Madrid striker must be three things: consistent, lethal and selfless.
For several years, Karim Benzema has won the right to be that striker as a result of the latter two traits perhaps a little more than the first, but this year, he failed at different times at each of the three.
Under 20 goals in all competitions might not be a terrible campaign for many top forwards, but at Real, it's poor, with Benzema's strike rate of one every 166 minutes highlighting how he has lacked both the clinical edge and the reliability needed in front of goal this term.
In addition, his link-up play was particularly poor early in the season, and despite coming back into form in the second half of 2016/17, he has been nowhere near his standards of last season.
Without a goal since the round-of-16 first leg in Europe, with one league goal between late October and early March and with just 11 to his name in league play all season, he simply hasn't hit the heights needed this term.
14. Raphael Varane
When Raphael Varane is spoken about in years to come, his Real Madrid career will unfortunately be remembered for a long list of injury absences and wondering about what might have been—assuming he doesn't finally overcome that susceptibility.
The Frenchman is, in a technical sense and with his game intelligence, the best defender at the club, no question—maybe even a good-enough all-rounder to rival the likes of Gerard Pique, Juventus' finest or any other defender on the planet.
But he simply doesn't have the physical resilience to withstand the rigours for 45 or 50 games per season at his best level.
This year, it has been up-and-down, with both hamstring and Achilles injuries keeping him out, though he still ends the season in the starting XI.
13. Alvaro Morata
Brought back home from Champions League final opponents Juventus last summer, Alvaro Morata was the team's only summer addition—and while his return has been worthwhile, and a genuine success, he'll still feel he should have achieved more.
Frustratingly for the Spanish striker, it's not his fault he hasn't—Zidane has simply opted to keep Benzema in the side.
With 20 goals in all competitions, Morata outscored the Frenchman. In La Liga, it finished 15-11 in Morata's favour. And his strike rate of a goal every 94 minutes is hugely superior to his team-mate's.
But Morata didn't play a single minute this season against Barcelona or Atletico Madrid in La Liga, just two minutes against the latter in Europe and not at all against Bayern Munich while also mustering just a handful of minutes in the Club World Cup.
He's the backup but still the most reliable centre-forward, even if it's off the bench.
12. Marco Asensio
Marco Asensio burst on to the scene in the early part of the season, thoroughly making the most of his opportunity with some players out injured and others struggling for form.
As is natural with a young player, and especially one in his first season as a Real Madrid senior, Asensio's form and minutes on the pitch dropped off midway through the year—but he was still given plenty of time to improve and show his capabilities.
The 21-year-old is a star in the making, already capable of playing a key role but also perfectly suited to being a sub and irregular starter, thanks to his adaptability to a number of roles.
He'll get more game time next season, but almost 2,000 minutes is a fantastic start, and he completely justified Zidane's choice to not loan him out.
11. Mateo Kovacic
After a difficult first season in Spain, Mateo Kovacic played a critical role this season and deserves enormous credit, even though he hasn't featured as much in the past couple of months.
With midfield injuries hitting hard, particularly holding midfielder Casemiro's absence, it was Kovacic who stepped up and put in some tremendous performances, aggressive and reliable defensively but also creative and forward-thinking when in possession.
He made the shirt his own for a period and proved a more than capable deputy. He can consider himself unfortunate to not have stayed in the side for longer once everyone had recovered.
10. Nacho Fernandez
For so long, Nacho Fernandez has been Real Madrid's fourth-choice centre-back, the cup defender employed merely to rest others—but this season, he came into his own and showed a greater consistency and maturity than ever before.
Injuries once more gave him his chance, but his form was such that he was Madrid's best central defender for a period this term, and he also performed with aplomb at full-back.
Imperious in the challenge, difficult to beat in the air and with a surprising turn of pace, Nacho was a revelation this season, the best of his career at Madrid, and he deserves a bump up the selection charts as a result.
9. Sergio Ramos
Edging out Nacho as the top centre-back for the entire season, though, is captain Sergio Ramos.
He had a dreadful start to the campaign, with his performances riddled with mistakes, errors of judgement and conceding penalties—but somehow, he still managed to come out on top more often than not thanks to a penchant for scoring important goals.
Later in the year, when his better defensive form returned, Ramos still had the ability to pop up and score at crucial moments, notably with back-to-back injury-time efforts against Depor and Barcelona, and he remains a key figure in the team because of his leadership and determination.
8. Keylor Navas
Like Sergio Ramos, Keylor Navas' form troughed early and peaked late, but unlike Ramos' season, the Costa Rican goalkeeper's return to his best level likely won't see him remain as No. 1 next term.
Injury denied him a full pre-season, and Keylor's game was error-strewn in the first half of the year. But his performances from February onward were much closer to 2015/16's superlative displays.
Those trademark quick reflexes, the ability to thwart strikers one-on-one and typically good distribution all make him a top stopper in La Liga, and there have once again been games this season when only Keylor made the scoreline seem a lot more one-sided than the reality of 90 minutes showed.
7. Luka Modric
Luka Modric has been a star for Real Madrid for many a season, but he perhaps didn't hit quite the highs of previous years in 2016/17—or at least not with as much consistency.
That's not to say he wasn't among the best central figures in La Liga, but the standards Modric has set are of enormous levels in terms of both consistency and importance to the team, and he was perhaps surpassed in both regards this season by some of his team-mates.
Still an important figure tactically because of his ability to win back possession, split defences and quickly move the ball forward, Modric has had to alter his approach since Zidane's late-season tactical shift, now needing to cover more ground in the channels.
He does it willingly, but it maybe detracts a little from his on-the-ball game.
6. Dani Carvajal
Despite ending the season injured, Dani Carvajal was a hugely influential figure for most of the campaign, producing exactly the type of performances expected of him.
He's aggressive defensively and doesn't make too many positional or individual errors. He's a good outlet on the flank and will commit to the attack and contribute toward creating chances, a steady seven- or eight-out-of-10 performer almost every week.
Not the most flashy player in the squad, and not the most skilful or physical, he's certainly a go-to name in the first XI whenever fit, which is a huge compliment to pay him considering the other names available.
Rarely is a player's quality so well highlighted when he's not playing, but Casemiro's value to Real Madrid is there for all to see given he is so different in his natural approach to the game.
A tremendous one-on-one defensive midfielder, he protects the defensive line with great tactical acumen and physical aggression, but he also has the technical quality to start passing moves from deep or to surge forward to add an unexpected presence in the box.
The odd thumping goal has helped his cause too.
Casemiro has become a pivotal figure under Zidane, and his performances this season have justified that importance.
From absolutely nowhere in the first half of 2016/17, Isco has been arguably the second-best player in the team for most of 2017.
Never has his technical ability been in doubt, but Isco lacked consistency, aggression and selflessness out of possession—but that has all changed. He runs nonstop, he fills in down the sides of midfield when required and his past two months have been monstrous for creativity in the final third.
A change in shape for the team has come about because Isco has earned the right to replace Bale; floating between the lines, alternating positions with midfield team-mates and finding the right pass or finish at the moments they're needed, he's so difficult for opposition teams to stop, and Zidane has rewarded that step up in performance.
His two assists against Celta Vigo and one in the opening seconds against Malaga highlighted just how much he has come to the fore when it matters most, while goals against Atletico (in Europe), Depor and Sporting Gijon mean he reached double figures for both scoring and assisting.
It's doubtful there was an overall better full-back in European football than Marcelo this season.
Defensively sound and offensively brilliant, he's the complete package and plays an increasingly important role for the side with his vocal approach and organisational work.
Most offensive full-backs will overlap their midfield or forward team-mates and look to deliver the ball; Marcelo has the somewhat unique approach of underlapping too, driving into midfield, taking on players and shooting or slipping the ball into the box with fantastic regularity.
His continued growth and consistency cannot be overlooked, and after a certain forward, he's probably the next most irreplaceable name on the teamsheet.
2. Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos has undergone two switches in his midfield role this year but has excelled at both and returned to his best form.
Whereas he was deployed deep in the middle at the start of last season and struggled at times, the start of 2016/17 saw him utilised much more offensively—to great effect. Set-piece delivery has always been a strength of the German's, but from the centre, he roved into the final third, got involved in the penalty box and worked the channels with the likes of Asensio and Bale to tremendous acclaim.
Later on, with the BBC strikeforce back in action, he moved back to a controlling central-midfield role—and most recently, he has had to mirror Modric to an extent, covering a little wider after Zidane's most recent switch.
Once again, Kroos has been incredibly consistent and thoroughly impressive, getting through lots of work but also switching up positions with Isco, floating between the lines to link play, make life difficult for the opposition midfielders in tracking everybody and clocking up assist after assist.
It was arguably his best overall season for Real Madrid.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
It simply couldn't be anyone else: Cristiano Ronaldo has been Real Madrid's best performer yet again.
And that's despite thoroughly vindicated questions over his performances earlier on in the season. A post-injury Ronaldo struggled with his acceleration, was missing his usual sure touch in build-up play and looked a little lost in the transition between genuine wide forward and one with a starting role on the flank but who moved centrally in possession.
As the season has gone on, the questions over those teething problems have not just been eradicated but made a mockery of.
Now a centre-forward in his own right, Ronaldo has quickly developed his own way of playing the role, still working wide when he sees the opportunity to do so but relishing being central more frequently simply because he has that self-belief back, stemming from his first touch and lethal finish.
He has stormed big games—Atletico, Bayern, Kashima Antlers, Sevilla, Malaga to wrap up the title—and he has swallowed smaller teams whole at times.
A 40-goal season once again puts him firmly in the running for major individual honours, as well as the team ones he continues to contribute heavily to, and the new version of Ronaldo as one of two strikers is a whole new level of nightmare for defenders.
It took some time, but Ronaldo is someone worth persevering with, and in 2016/17, he once more proved to be Real Madrid's finest.