Bleacher Report's Alternative Real Madrid Awards for 2016/17 La Liga Season
Real Madrid might have wrapped up the 2016/17 season by winning La Liga, but there is still more silverware up for grabs: They face Juventus in the UEFA Champions League final, aiming to complete the double and become the first side to retain the European trophy in its current format.
Under Zinedine Zidane, the team has proved resilient, adaptable and most of all, capable of winning when it matters, yielding this term alone the European Super Cup and Club World Cup even before La Liga was won.
We're ready to deal out our awards for the campaign to Real's stars, making note of a season's worth of goals, performances, highlights and disappointments, with a full dozen to be handed out.
Most Improved from 2015/16 Season
There were a few candidates for this one, but Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic stepped up enormously, especially in the first half of the campaign when the team were short through injuries.
His aggressive style, ability to slice open defences on the run and his capacity to either hold or push on make him a great option for Zidane to utilise, and he looked far more confident in the white shirt this term compared to his fleeting moments in the side in 2015/16.
Other candidates were Nacho Fernandez, Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio, though it would be unfair to judge the latter across two different teams as he wasn't at Real last year.
Best Individual Display
Considering some of the big games which Madrid have won this term, there were a lot to choose from, but one particular standout will live long in the memory.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Atletico Madrid, at the Vicente Calderon—the last La Liga derby at Atleti's stadium, no less.
Playing as the lone striker, Ronaldo ran Los Rojiblancos ragged with tremendous movement in the channels, a willingness to take on defenders and an utterly clinical 90 minutes.
He notched a hat-trick, spoiled the goodbye party for the home side and served notice of his intent to wreak havoc in 2016/17 as a centre-forward.
Goal of the Season
This one goes straight to the least-expected player in the squad: Nacho Fernandez, and his audacious midair side-kick volley in the Copa del Rey against Cultural Leonesa.
Casemiro against Napoli, Cristiano against Celta Vigo, Gareth Bale against Legia Warsaw and Asensio against Sevilla were all deserving of a mention, but none come close enough to Nacho for spectacular execution.
Underrated by the Fans
A tricky one, as there is no single metric fans pick their favourites by, but in general terms, it's still apparent that many overlook Nacho Fernandez.
The Spanish defender was Real's best centre-back for a long period this season, the most regularly available option as others succumbed to injury and also a fine outlet when switched to left-back.
It has comfortably been his best campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu, but when it comes to selecting a first XI, many still opt for Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos as the pairing of choice without even a moment's hesitation. Nacho deserves more than that and has proved so in 2016/17.
Underrated by the Manager
Again, there could be two or three players who lay claim to this unwanted award, but Alvaro Morata being perennially left on the bench by Zidane probably gets the nod.
James Rodriguez makes an impact when selected and is left out...but given the alternatives, it's perhaps understandable how he hasn't been able to break in regularly.
But Morata? He has outscored Karim Benzema, has a much better strike rate, linked well with the team as the sole striker and had great tactical importance early in the season, filtering left to allow Ronaldo to remain central.
He deserved more game time.
Underrated by the Wider Football World
Real Madrid are one of the most heavily supported clubs in the world, but that doesn't mean everybody automatically tunes in to watch their matches.
And while Marcelo is known to be one of the game's best left-backs in an off-hand, he-plays-for-Madrid-so-must-be-good kind of way, those non-regular viewers cannot comprehend just how important, how pivotal, how ferociously good the Brazilian has been this season.
A defender, yes, but his creative work, his adaptability to become part of the build-up play and his execution in the final third are all breathtaking, and in 2016/17 he has come on yet another level with taking responsibility, consistency and being a leader in the squad.
He's an incredible player, almost a playmaker at times, and he should be spoken about in the same breath as those hugely expensive forwards everybody loves to admire.
Most Disappointing Player
There aren't too many in the Madrid squad who will be unhappy with the season overall, even if some would have wanted more game time than they received.
Fabio Coentrao, however, had a nightmare: injured to begin with, unable to rediscover form, culpable for mistakes when he featured and then overlooked once more as the season came toward its conclusion.
The left-back has had a few years to forget and needs to find somewhere to rebuild his career before it's too late.
Most Likely to Leave
Most fans want the team to stay together, but there must be an element of inevitable renewal.
James Rodriguez is perhaps the most at risk of departing the scene; he's a tremendous player, world-class when on his game and has a superb production rate—he's just not in the team enough and is an expensive commodity to have sat on the sidelines.
Coentrao, Keylor Navas, Morata and even Bale may yet all have their reasons for leaving.
Most Deserving of a New Contract
No question on this one: Isco's form, his dwindling current deal and how he helped push Madrid over the line in both competitions means he's a must-keep for Los Blancos.
Playing as a roving, scheming midfielder, his movement and drive from the centre have helped shape the team's run to the Champions League final, and he produced several moments of magic in La Liga, from his assists to Ronaldo to his own important goals against Sporting Gijon.
Marca report Isco is close to a new contract, and with only one year left on his present one, it's a good thing, too.
All players want to be in the starting XI, but it's not always the case that those players have the biggest impact on matches.
Zidane has used his bench reasonably well this year, and there are impact players to call upon: Lucas Vazquez managed two assists and a goal off the bench, while James went even better with three assists and a goal.
Alvaro Morata beats them all, though: 225 mins played as sub, four goals scored and two assists laid on.
He might not like the tag of super-sub, but there's no doubting that he was the man for the big occasion when Real most needed inspiration.
Stats Awards: Biggest Defensive Contribution
To finish up, we're looking at two stats-based awards. For the defenders, we've tallied the combined tackles, interceptions and clearances per game, giving us Real's biggest contributor.
Pepe is the man who comes out on top, with an average of 7.9 defensive interactions per game. It should be noted that he played 13 times in La Liga, fewer than any other defender, but it's still enough to show consistency and not skew results.
Raphael Varane (7.3), Sergio Ramos (7.0) and Casemiro (6.8) followed in the standings.
Stats via WhoScored.com.
Stats Awards: Biggest Creative Contribution
For the attackers, Ronaldo naturally topped the goal charts, and his shots per game suggest that's exactly as it should be, but what about fashioning chances and opening space? We've combined key passes and dribbles per game to give us the biggest creative outlet for the team.
Toni Kroos takes the award, weighing in with a combined average of 3.8 per game, partly added to by his set piece prowess but no less impressive for that.
Luka Modric and Isco tallied 3.0, Marcelo 2.9 and Mateo Kovacic 2.8.
Stats via WhoScored.