Monday, May 23, 2016

Your La Liga Postseason Awards

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

It was a heck of a ride, but La Liga is out for the summer, so here are our end of the season award winners.

Player of the year: Luis Suárez (Barcelona)

No, you’re not drunk.

It's true, someone other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is actually the La Liga player of the year.

The stats in themselves are outrageous, and consider that Suarez is not the principal penalty taker, and almost never attempts a free-kick.

40 goals and 16 assists.

He led the league in both categories, but more than just numbers, it was his timing.

In late March/early April Barcelona began to collapse. Physically, the starting XI began to wear down because of the massive minutes the starting unit was logging due to their suspect bench. Losers of three of four league games, as well as a stunning exit from the Champions League at the hands of rivals Atletico, Barcelona needed the proverbial cold shower.

In stepped Suárez.

Over the last five games he scored 14 goals, while also providing four assists. Barcelona won them all by an aggregate score of 24-0, winning their 24th La Liga title, and 6th in the past 8 years. Come next winter, the Uruguayan will surely be one of the finalists for Europe’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon D'Or.

Honorable mention: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) , Lionel Messi (Barcelona) , Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid).

Flop of the year: Danilo (Real Madrid)

With Real Madrid already possessing the sometimes dull, but rock solid Dani Carvajal as their starting right back, the €30 million purchase of Danilo was a head scratcher from the start. Blessed with all of the physical tools, Danilo certainly looked the part from the very first minute he stepped onto the pitch. His play started off strong as well before injury hit, forcing him out of action.

After that, Danilo was never able to regain his starting role, let alone compete with his Spanish counterpart.

Responsible for a decent amount of offensive plays -- five assists to his name prove that he knows how to reach the final third -- Danilo suffered mightily defensively, with no performance worse than the one against Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarterfinal. The following weekend the Bernabeu faithful let him know about it, with a cascade of whistles thrown his way when he came on as a second half sub. With less expectations on his shoulders next season, perhaps the Brazilian will be able to bounce back, but until then, he appears to be just another expensive dud orchestrated by President Florentino Perez.

Honorable mention: James Rodríguez (Real Madrid), Arda Turan (Barcelona), Aymen Abdennour (Valencia).

Surprise player of the year: Kevin Gameiro (Sevilla)

After a season spent basking in the shade of Carlos Bacca’s immovable shadow, Kevin Gameiro approached the upcoming season with a new lease on life. Bacca was off to AC Milan in a mega-deal, and with no formidable opposition, the Frenchmen was a shoo-in to start. Blindsided, right before the closing of the acquisition window, Sevilla went out and acquired Fernando Llorente on a free transfer, and Ciro Immobile on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

Seemingly down to third on the totem pole, Gameiro was forced to again wait for his opportunity. After realizing Llorente now resembled a corpse more than footballer, and Immobile left his memory of how to score goals back in Turin, Sevilla resorted back to plan A.

Boy, did that work.

Gameiro netted 16 goals in league play, his best output since he scored 22 in 2010/11 with Lorient, but his most remarkable work came during Sevilla’s play in tournaments.

He scored 4 in 6 games in guiding Sevilla to the Copa del Rey final, and another 7 en route to the Europa League final. In the title game, he equalized against Liverpool early in the 2nd half, propelling them to an eventual 3-1 victory. For the 3rd consecutive season Sevilla lifted the trophy high atop the winner's podium, pushing their number of titles to 5 -- a record for the tournament.

Honorable mention: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Borja Baston (Eibar).

Manager of the year: Diego Simeone (Atlético Madrid)

If you're basing this award off expectations vs. performance, Simeone probably wouldn’t be your first choice. After all, Quique Setién guided a newly promoted Las Palmas side from the brink of relegation mid-season, all the way to an 11th place finish. Marcelino has done wonders with Villarreal, guiding a side that was relegated only three years ago to a 4th place finish.

Still, I have to give it to Simeone.

Hell, if I don’t, he may find me and kick my ass.

Coming into this season, Atletico was trying to balance its philosophy away from the scorched earth defensive tactics to a more aesthetically pleasing offensive side. In came forward Jackson Martinez for huge money as a cure to all their ills, but instead of being the remedy, his presence morphed them into the bubonic plague.

Not even a half-a-season into the marriage and Jackson was sold off to some team you’ve never heard of in China.

Instead of panicking, Simone went back to the only thing he knows -- defense.

Atleti may have not scored much, but the opposition scored less, way less. They allowed a grand total of 18 goals (11 less than 2nd place) and secured 24 clean sheets (6 more than 2nd place).

His side fought to the bitter end for the title, finishing a mere 3 points behind league winners Barcelona. Their 88 total points was their 2nd best tally ever behind their 90 in 2014 -- another Simeone led side.

Best of all was his performance in the Champions League.

Playing as prohibitive underdogs in the quarters against Barcelona, and again in the semis vs. Bayern Munich, Simeone’s Atletico stunned everyone by disposing of both on the way to the final.

Now, they face their fiercest rivals Real Madrid once again for European glory. A triumph in Milan would be Simeone’s greatest accomplishment, and one that would squarely place him in the world football's finest manager discussion.  

Honorable mention: Marcelino (Villarreal) , Quique Setién (Las Palmas), Luis Enrique (Barcelona). 

Goal of the year: Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao)

It was our selection for best goal in the mid-season awards and it will remain the best goal for the end-of-season awards.

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.

A shot most couldn’t pull off playing against the air.

Starting XI of the year

GK: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)
LB: Óscar de Marcos (Athletic Bilbao)
CB: Diego Godin (Atlético Madrid)
CB: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
RB: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
MF: Bruno (Villarreal)
MF: Koke (Atlético Madrid)
MF: Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)
FW: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
FW: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

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