Tuesday, December 29, 2015

La Liga Midseason Awards

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Writer's note: A little over four months ago, I had the pleasure of joining the SuiteSports community as a man with his soccer thoughts and no one to share them with. I had absolutely no experience writing articles (other than my lazy attempts at research papers in college) and even less of an idea of the hard work, research and dedication needed to appear somewhat informed.

From the bottom of my heart, I just wanted to say thank you to Joe and the rest of our great writers for giving me a chance and welcoming me with open arms. Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my readers for their continued support and countless feedback. You guys are the reason I do this, and I look forward to bringing you more content in the future. Happy holidays and a wonderful new year to you and your families.

Ok, enough of all that mushy stuff, let’s get to the awards!

Ed. Note- Aw, we're happy to have you too Justin! Now, onward and upward!

Player of the First Half: Neymar (Barcelona)

Coming into this season, Barcelona fans knew that their team's success would be decided by the play of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. In a late September game against Las Palmas, Catalonia’s collective heart stopped, as Messi crumpled to the ground clutching his knee. Though it wasn’t as serious as initially feared, the Argentine would be on the sideline for 6-8 weeks, leaving the Catalans with a massive void. 

Needing someone to fill it, Neymar stepped up superbly.

In the 10 La Liga and Champions League fixtures that Messi missed, the Brazilian scored 10 times and dished out 6 assists. He took on the role of play maker, going at defenses, all the while diverting their attention from teammates that he could set up for better shots.

His play reached such a level, that pundits even started to place him in the “best in the world” discussion. Going forward, Barcelona will need Neymar to continue his stellar form as they go for back-to-back trebles, further cementing their place as the world's best side.


Honorable Mention: Luis Suárez (Barcelona), Lucas Pérez (Deportivo de La Coruña), Nolito (Celta de Vigo).

Flop of the First Half: Jackson Martinez (Atletico Madrid)

Slapped with a $38 million price tag and talent for days, Jackson was seen as just another stud on the long list of strikers Atleti fans have enjoyed in recent seasons.

Unfortunately, things haven't gone according to plan.

The former Porto hitman has managed only 3 goals in Atletico's first 15 contests, while looking extremely uncomfortable in the process. Diego Simeone’s hard nosed defensive style has contrasted with the more relaxed, “football is fun” style of play of the Colombian.

Although Los Colchoneros have struggled to find the back of the net, their defense has held down the fort allowing the fewest goals in league play. Currently sitting in 2nd place, they will need someone to step up and produce goals in key moments to stay in contention for La Liga.

With half a season remaining, Jackson will look to redeem himself and become the player we all think he can be.

Honorable Mention: Danilo (Real Madrid), Ciro Immobile (Sevilla), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad).

Biggest Surprise: Lucas Pérez (Deportivo de La Coruña)

Looking up the scoring charts halfway through the season, most fans would have expected to see names like Ronaldo, Messi and even Griezmann. Few, if any, would have predicted a Perez.

Located high atop Spain in the Galician coast city of La Coruna, this home grown talent has been scoring goals like we’ve never seen before.

For the seventh consecutive league game, the striker found the back of the net, tying Bebeto's 1993 club record. Also consider that only two Spaniards have scored in seven consecutive games over the last half-century (Quini at Sporting Gijón in 1979-80 and Dani Guiza in 2007-08 at Mallorca); and no Galician born player has scored more than 12 in a season, for any club, in the same period.

Lucas is there now, with 22 matches left.

More than just the individual accolades, the Christmas break arrived with the team that survived relegation on the final day last season sitting in a European place. They have 26 points, twice as many as at this stage last season. They need just 13 more to secure survival in the top flight of Spanish football for next season.

At home, with seemingly an entire region on his back, Lucas has been more than up to the task, living his dream one minute at a time.

Honorable Mention: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Imanol Agirretxe (Real Sociedad), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia).

Best Summer Transfer Signing: Raul Garcia (Athletic Bilbao)

Some moves just make perfect sense.

You know, the ones your rivals make that force you to say “yup, we’re screwed”.

For Athletic, their $9 million dollar acquisition of abrasive goal scoring midfielder Raul Garcia was exactly that.

Navarre-born, Garcia fit under Athletic Bilbao’s stringent policy of only fielding Basque born players. The 28-year-old has seamlessly fit in behind striker Aritz Aduriz, scoring in his debut against Getafe, immediately adoring himself to the Los Leones faithful.

He has added another 4 goals and 4 assists over all competitions, guiding Athletic past a slow early season start back into contention for European qualification.

Honorable Mention: Lucas Pérez (Deportivo de La Coruña), Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Atlético Madrid), Alen Halilovic (Sporting Gijon).

Best goal: Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao)

This one just never gets old.

Back turned to goal, flip the pass sky-high into the air, turn and make the run, catch up before it hits the ground and smash the volley into the back of the net.

Honorable Mention: Neymar vs. Villarreal, Nolito vs, Real Madrid, James Rodriguez vs. Real Betis.

Looking Ahead 

It’s only halfway through the season and another Real Madrid manager is under fire. Rafa Benitez is seemingly walking on eggshells, with each and every game under the microscope. It’s gotten so bad for the Spaniard that his team was seemingly whistled off the pitch, despite beating Rayo Vallecano 10-2! 

With club icon Zinedine Zidane lurking in the shadows, it may not be long before president Florentino Perez caves to the masses and forces a managerial change.

Meanwhile, Barcelona continues to play at an extremely high level, despite two draws against Valencia and Depor right before the Christmas break. With a game in hand, they sit level on points with Atletico Madrid, despite having yet to face them, or Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.

To make matters worse for their competition, FIFA’s transfer ban will soon be lifted, allowing summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal to make their competitive debuts for La Blaugrana. Barring a second half meltdown, Barcelona should be lifting consecutive Liga trophies come May.

Atletico Madrid had a chance to go top of the table before the break, but stumbled to a 1-0 loss away at Malaga. Despite this, they sit 2nd in the table, built off an incredible defense that has surrendered 6 goals less than anyone else in the league. Conversely, their offense has struggled mightily, with only 22 goals scored and no true attacking identity.

Elsewhere, the battle for the 4th and final European spot is expected to go down to the wire. Celta and Villarreal look to be the favorites with at least a 4-point gap separating them from 6th place Depor.

Games to Watch / Matchday 17

1. Villarreal vs. Valencia 12/31 10:00 AM
2. Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao 12/30 2:30 PM
3. Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad 12/30 10:00 AM

La Liga Standings

Table: PTOS- points, PJ- games played, PG- games won, PE- games tied, PP- games lost

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