La Liga surprise XI of the season
It would be too easy and clichéd to insert the entire Real Madrid squad here due to their unusual form this season, but they would only merit inclusion in this team with respect to their negative performances. Instead, the Surprise XI in La Liga this season shall be comprised of those who have shown outstanding qualities when unfancied to do so. Many of the following players have shown steady progress during their careers but experienced a breakout season unlike any of their previous ones.
GK. Willy Caballero – Malaga
Caballero has enjoyed a sensational year with Malaga as they qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. The Argentinian goalkeeper conceded just 35 goals and kept seven clean sheets during the 11/12 campaign, and but for a fractured hand sustained towards the end of the season, could have added to that total. Since his return, Caballero has been in sensational form and helped pin a weakened Malaga side up in the top four for much of the season. He has recorded 16 clean sheets already this season, including 5 in Champions League competition, which is incredible considering Caballero was lying in the Segunda with Elche only 2 seasons ago.
Weligton – Malaga
Ahead of Caballero, Weligton has excelled alongside Martin Demichelis in the heart of the Malaga defence. Though not as sharp in the attacking department this season due to the loss of Santi Cazorla, the defence has taken the plaudits this year thanks to their consistent work to keep clean sheets. Whilst Demichelis, the powerful beast that he is, has taken much of the credit, Weligton has been the fervent servant, cleaning up loose balls and winning challenges on the ground. The pair have a Batman/Robin like feel to them, as Weligton deserves more praise for the untidy work he undertakes in the midst of another clean sheet. We salute you Weligton.
Nacho – Betis
Like Malaga and Sociedad, Betis have enjoyed a rise up the table and have remained there for the majority of the season thanks to their marauding left-back. Nacho has experienced a standard career with few major highlights, but the former Getafe man has been dominant this season and been a pivotal figure on the left flank for Betis. If no one else truly appreciates Nacho’s importance, then his team mates certainly do as the Spaniard has delivered 6 assists for the high flyers this season. Pepe Mel dropped Nacho for a couple of games this season, but after Betis were thumped 5-1 by rivals Sevilla, he drafted in his full-back for the game against Real Madrid – which they won. He’s remained ever present since then, and excelled, even at the age of 32.
Damia – Osasuna
Another full-back makes the list, but it proved too tough to omit one of Osasuna’s star performers from the formation. Osasuna struggled initially, but have since found some form and rocketed away from the foot of the table. The northern club’s defensive record has been impeccable and a key factor in their recent rise. Damia has contributed to this success despite having to play right across the back four, from his usual right-back to left-back, and enduring a stint at centre-back. It doesn’t seem to have troubled him however, as Osasuna have conceded just 3 goals in their previous 8 matches. On the disciplinary side, Damia is a bit suspect, but more often than not, he saves a goal thanks to his tenacious tackling.
MF. Benat – Betis
One of the star performers of the season and the next in line to succeed the invincible Spanish midfield. Benat has come of age this season, and it is unsurprising to see him linked with transfers to England. Much like Santi Cazorla, or any Spanish midfielder really, the tiny Benat is a creative wizard and has been the fuel for Ruben Castro this year. Recently making three assists in one match for Betis, he’s helped set up seven goals in total and scored four himself, including the winner against Real Madrid. Adept at playing a deeper role and harrying opponents for the ball, Benat works as hard for Betis as Cesc Fabregas did for Arsenal, and is the shining star in the centre of the Betis team.
Piti – Rayo Vallecano
Piti has taken over from where Michu left off this season, scoring 10 goals for the Madrid side. Leo Baptistao has been out of form since his stunning burst at the beginning of the season, but Piti has stepped in expertly and given everything to the team chasing Europa League football. Starting on the left has been Piti’s real strength this year, often drifting into the middle and pouncing on the loose ball, but he has played in 6 different positions around the midfield so far this season. A top player with the ball at his feet, he can often be a selfish player, but he’s the quality facet a team like Rayo yearn to see and require to win matches.
Koke – Atletico Madrid
Another to be deployed across the midfield on a regular basis, 21 year old Koke has been a revelation in an impressive Atletico Madrid side this year. His addition to the team has only benefited players such as Falcao, Diego Costa and Raul Garcia, as he’s wonderful at keeping possession and using the ball to Madrid’s advantage. Very similar in style to Isco at Malaga, Koke has enjoyed his breakthrough season this year, and not been overawed by the amount of games he’s played – perhaps like Iker Munain has been. With three goals and six assists, Koke’s exuberance has given Atletico a freshness that has boosted them up ahead of Real Madrid into second. If they can keep hold of him for a few seasons, then Atletico can really begin to assert some pressure on their rivals.
Oscar – Valladolid
Having peaked at Zaragoza during his early years as a footballer, Oscar remained out of the spotlight for an age, moving to Greece with Olympiacos and then returning to Spain in the Segunda with Valladolid. Following promotion last season, Oscar has been the catalyst behind some quality showings this season – most notably against Vallecano when he scored two and set up two. With 9 goals and 5 assists so far, he’s been Valladolid’s most important player, and made up for the absence of hulking striker Manucho. Oscar is a luxury player – he doesn’t add much to the team, but finishes off moves with the conviction of a seasoned pro like Kevin Phillips. Valladolid weren’t fancied to fare so well this year, but largely thanks to Oscar, they appear destined for a second season in La Liga.
FW. Iago Aspas – Celta Vigo
Perhaps the only reason Celta aren’t relegated already. Aspas has contributed so much to the La Liga newbies and attracted attention from all over Europe. Roughly 56% of Celta’s goals have been down to Aspas as the goal-shy Galicians struggle near the foot of the table. With 9 goals and 6 assists, Aspas’ ability to create chances from relatively little had adhered him to clubs around the continent, and should Celta go down this season, you can be sure there will be numerous bids tabled for his services.
Ruben Castro – Betis
Castro excelled last season, and has done so again this season, clearly enjoying the service provided by the improving Benat. He’s managed 15 goals so far this season, one shy of his total for the year before, and has proved many people wrong by playing consistently in each game. At 31, he’s using valuable experience to his advantage and helping Betis to qualify for Europe so soon after promotion a couple of seasons ago. Pepe Mel uses him wisely in a number of positions, and Castro is clever enough to judge when to time his run into the box and when to remain back. His heading is a key component of his game that troubles defenders, and will continue to do so as long as the service is provided.