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Messi, Cazorla, Getafe: Spanish Football End-of-Season Awards

Richard FitzpatrickSpecial to Bleacher ReportMay 27, 2019

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates with his son becoming La Liga champions after winning the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 27, 2019. - Lionel Messi clinched an eighth La Liga title for Barcelona in 11 seasons today as he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Levante. It is the Catalan club's 26th league title -- second in Spain to Real Madrid's record of 33. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

The curtain came down on the top end of Spanish football on Saturday as Valencia stunned Barcelona 2-1 to win the Copa del Rey final. 

With another season in the books, the time has come to look at the players and teams who exceeded expectations (or disappointed) throughout the campaign. 

     

Team of the Season (4-3-3)

  • Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
  • Defenders: Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Djene (Getafe), Gaya (Valencia)
  • Midfielders: Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla), Dani Parejo (Valencia), Rodri (Atletico Madrid)
  • Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

       

Player of the Season: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

No discussion for this category. Messi just gets better and better.

Fifty-one goals in all competitions, including his sixth European Golden Shoe award. Sublime assists. Free kicks—including two in one game against Espanyol earlier in the season—that flew like arrows into the net.

It's difficult to pick out a single moment, but there was something unforgettable about the lob he scored against Real Betis earlier in the spring—a featherweight touch over Pau Lopez that rounded off a hat-trick and drew rival fans at the Benito Villamarin Stadium to their feet in cries of "Messi! Messi! Messi!"

        

Best Signing of the Season: Borja Iglesias (Espanyol)

Playing in his first full Liga season, Borja Iglesias has been a revelation.

For several seasons, the 26-year-old's career had been drifting at Celta Vigo, but a successful loan spell last season at Real Zaragoza in the second division persuaded Espanyol to take a punt on him.

As Espanyol's most expensive signing (€10 million), he has proved a shrewd purchase. His 17 goals in La Liga this season propelled the Catalan club back into European football for the first time since their UEFA Cup final defeat on penalties to Sevilla in 2007.

         

Worst Signing of the Season: Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid)

Atletico Madrid broke the bank last summer to bring in exciting French midfielder Thomas Lemar.

Expectations were high that the most exciting signing in the club's history—reportedly for a fee of €72 millionwould link up well with 2018 FIFA World Cup-winning team-mate Antoine Griezmann, but it never materialised.

Lemar only managed to score three league goals all season and drew a blank in Atletico's anti-climatic UEFA Champions League campaign. On the defining night of Atletico's season—as they went down without a fight 3-0 against Juventus in Turin—he was substituted, providing costly evidence manager Diego Simeone finds it difficult to assimilate creative players into his system.

        

Disappointment of the Season (Player): Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 19:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid looks on from the substitute bench before the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompie at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 19, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Image
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

With the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, this was supposed to be the season Gareth Bale came into his kingdom.

It didn't happen. He scored only eight league goals.

Since arriving at Real Madrid six years ago as the world's most expensive player, Bale has had marvellous moments—the sensational, galloping goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final, the famous bicycle kick against Liverpool and four UEFA Champions League winners medals.

Yet it feels like he has underachieved. He hasn't come within a sniff of the Ballon d'Or podium. Even Neymar Jr., who Barcelona also brought to La Liga in the summer of 2013, has appeared on it twice since.

It remains to be seen what will happen in Bale's stand-off with manager Zinedine Zidane, as the Frenchman appears to have little faith in him. His days at the club seem numbered.

       

Disappointment of the Season (Club): Real Madrid

The dwindling attendances at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium spoke volumes about Real Madrid's shambolic season.

Dumped out of the running for each of the season's major trophies by early March and without a meaningful competitive game to play for six months. Rifling through three coaches. Isco, Marcelo and Bale sulking on the bench. A president who had the arrogance to sell Ronaldo—the most prolific scorer in the club's illustrious history—without trying to find an adequate replacement. And, worst of all, a record 19-point gap between themselves and Barcelona.

Despite having eight of its players—a club record—in the 2018 voting for the Ballon d'Or award, it has been a season to forget for Real Madrid.

         

Surprise of the Season (Player): Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla)

Pablo Sarabia is a late bloomer.

He was given his debut by Real Madrid in December 2010 by Jose Mourinho in a UEFA Champions League game against Auxerre. It is only now that the 27-year-old has finally blossomed.

He's got wonderful ball control, and his eye for goal—having notched 12 in La Liga this season—is exceptional for a midfielder. Not to mention a notable accolade as La Liga's joint-leading assist provider this season alongside Messi, which makes his €18 million buyout clause worryingly low for Sevilla fans.

        

Goal of the Season: Inaki Williams, Athletic Bilbao vs. Sevilla

Inaki Williams, who is a favourite son at San Mames, hadn't scored at his own house in over 700 daysand suddenly he bangs in two goals in a 2-0 league victory against Sevilla in January. The second goal, which was scored late in the game, was a thing of brutal beauty.

Retrieving the ball near their own corner flag, Athletic launched a counter-attack, finding Williams close to the centre-circle. Still in his own half, he flicked the ball around his marker and sped through the gap between Sevilla's last two covering defenders with extraordinary acceleration before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting into the net.

Boom. What a goal.

       

Game of the Season: Villarreal 4-4 Barcelona

CASTELLON, SPAIN - APRIL 2: (L-R) Santiago Caseres of Villarreal, Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona  during the La Liga Santander  match between Villarreal v FC Barcelona at the Estadio de la Ceramica on April 2, 2019 in Castellon Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwse
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

This was a game for the ages.

As the season slid into April, Barcelona were hunting down another league title. Improbably, Villarreal—with La Liga's seventh-largest budget—were fighting for survival in the premier division.

The game exploded into life with two early Barca goals, and only the woodwork prevented Philippe Coutinho from putting them three ahead. Then came the comeback.

Villarreal stormed into a 4-2 lead, which included a golazo from their Cameroonian forward Toko Ekambi, outfoxing Marc-Andre ter Stegen—who had been magnificent all night—at his near post.

Messi, who entered the fray on the hour mark, rocketed in a free-kick from close range to cut the deficit to one in the 90th minute before Luis Suarez equalised with another thunderbolt with a few seconds remaining.

Only then could the spectators at La Ceramica Stadium draw breath.

        

Young Player of the Season: Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)

He might have not scored many goals—only two in La Liga, one of which was a wicked ricochet against Valladolid—but Vinicius Junior still had an explosive season for Real Madrid.

The 18-year-old was one of the only rays of light, along with Sergio Reguilon's emergence, during a dark period of the club's history.

One of his greatest gifts to the Bernabeu was that he played with a smile on his face. Once he's on the pitch, it's impossible to take your eyes off him—the darting runs, the footwork, the fearlessness of youth.

Having dovetailed well with Karim Benzema, it will be fascinating to see how Zidane deploys him next season in an attack that will be top-heavy with talent.

      

Goalkeeper of the Season: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)

For the fourth year running, Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak has scooped the Zamora Trophy—awarded to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio.

The Slovenia international is a human wall; he only let in 27 goals in 37 league games this season and kept 20 clean sheets for Atletico.

Victor Valdes is the only other goalkeeper in the 90-year history of La Liga—a league that has given us 'keepers such as Luis Arconada, Andoni Zubizarreta and Iker Casillas—to win the award on four consecutive occasions.

Oblak, at 26 years of age, could smash that record.  

        

Hero of the Season: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

They will be erecting a statue for this man in Galicia when he hangs up his boots. For the third season in a row, Iago Aspas has won the Zarra trophy—a prize awarded by Marca to the Spanish player who finishes the season as La Liga's top scorer.

And this after he missed three months through injury.

If there were a game that embodied his essence for Celta Vigo, it was the comeback he masterminded against Villarreal in March.

Celta were in the drop zone, four points behind their opponents in the league standings. Villarreal went two goals ahead. Then Aspas, who was returning from injury, scored twice. Along with a goal from Maxi Gomez, it helped secure an invaluable three points.

The fans' reaction to his heroics at Balaidos left him in floods of tears at the final whistle.

      

Surprise of the Season (Club): Getafe

GETAFE, SPAIN - MAY 18: Players of Getafe CF celebrate after their team's goal during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Villarreal CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on May 18, 2019 in Getafe, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

Nobody predicted Getafe would be in fourth place and three points ahead of the chasing pack for UEFA Champions League qualification with two games to go.

Sadly, the modest club from Madrid—whose budget is less than one-fifteenth the size of Barcelona's—fell agonisingly short but still finished fifth in the table. It's an extraordinary achievement.

Everywhere in the squad, there are wonderful storylines, including their phenomenal strike partnership of Jaime Mata, who won his first international cap this season aged 30, and Jorge Molina, who at 37 years of age was ever-present for their 38-game league campaign.

Watch out for their assault on the Europa League next season.

         

Comeback of the Season: Santi Cazorla (Villarreal) 

Few sights in football are more enjoyable than watching Santi Cazorla weave his magic in the middle of the pitch.

It looked as if those pleasures were over. After a gruesome ankle injury cost him eight centimetres of an Achilles tendon from infection, the medical profession thought his career was over.

Cazorla knew different.

After almost two years without playing a football match, 10 operations and a brutal rehabilitation regime, Cazorla is back playing again at Villarreal, the club that gave him his La Liga debut 15 long seasons ago, with gusto. And to top off a fairytale comeback, he's been called up to Spain's international squad again after a four-year absence.

       

Coach of the Season: Pepe Bordalas (Getafe)

With honourable mention going to Marcelino for delivering Valencia their first trophy in 11 years and UEFA Champions League qualification with a late-season surge, it's impossible to look beyond Pepe Bordalas for his feats with Getafe this season.

After 25 years plying his trade in Spain's lower divisions, the 55-year-old has made an unbelievable mark on La Liga in two seasons with his managerial nous and hipster beard. He was already voted manager of the year by the Royal Football Federation of Spain last season.

With methods of motivation that include inspirational videos about Irene Villa, who survived bombing by ETA, Bordalas has built a unit on core values of order and loyalty. His Getafe team, miserly in giving away goals, is perhaps La Liga's greatest example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz

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