As La Liga approaches its midway point and returns from a short winter break, things seem to have gone back to status quo, particularly at the top. There have been a few surprises and interesting stories, including the eyebrow-raising sacking of Eduardo Berizzo days after his return from prostate cancer surgery. How well have Spain’s top teams on their midterms?
Job done then? Barcelona entered the mid-season break on the back of a 3-0 victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu that left their hosts 14 points behind. This was to be a season of pain for Barcelona who watched Los Blancos claim La Liga and a second consecutive Champions League Trophy last season. The summer saw them being the butt of their rivals jokes as Dani Ceballos and Theo Hernandez turned them down to join Real while they lost the incomprehensibly good Neymar, only to see him being replaced by a 29-year-old Brazilian from China.
Best Player – Lionel Messi
This one is as obvious as can be. This season has seen Barcelona’s dependence on the Great One reach its highest peak following the departure of Neymar and the injury to young Ousmane Dembele. It should come as no surprise that he has not let them down.
Quiet Achiever – Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
One can’t help but wonder where MATS would be in his career if he didn’t spend two seasons warming the bench to Claudio Bravo, but the past is the past. The German international is in the form of his life and his importance to the team should not be discounted.
Worst Player – Andre Gomes
A bit harsh as he hasn’t done too much wrong when on the field but you can’t shake the feeling that it just isn’t going to work for Gomes at the Nou Camp. When given the chance to play, it’s usually in roles outside his comfort zone. A separation at the end of the season looks likely.
Manager – Ernesto Valverde
Considering he was an unpopular choice among a large portion of Barcelona fans who sought a return to the playing ethos of the club that Luis Enrique started the move away from, he’s done quite well hasn’t he? A La Liga title would have been necessary to appease the fans somewhat and he’s halfway there to achieving that.
Team Grade – A
They say the table never lies, but put an asterisk beside Atletico Madrid’s name. Currently second but at no point of this season have they looked capable of challenging for top honours. Talisman Antoine Griezmann elected to remain in Spain to help Atletico through their transfer ban, but the Frenchman has struggled to deliver considering theé expectations placed upon him. They’ll be hoping Diego Costa’s return is the tonic they need to improve.
Best Player – Jan Oblak
Whereas Griezman has struggled in the attacking third, in the defensive third, Atlético has faced no such problems with Jan Oblak. Arguably the best goalkeeper in Spain.
Quiet Achiever – Lucas Hernandez
Whether it’s been at left back or center back, the older brother of Real Madrid’s Theo Hernandez has stepped up to the plate when called upon. Latest reports indicate the French-born defender will pull on the colours of La Furia Rojo.
Worst Player – Yannick Carrasco
In a world where attacking Belgian players are excelling, Carrasco is the exception to the norm. His inconsistent performances have brought him a raft of criticism this campaign and the word on the street outside the Wanda Metropolitano is that Diego Simeone has given the green light to accept bids for the winger.
Manager – Diego Simeone
There was a quiet acceptance from those at Atlético Madrid that this season would be more about maintaining a position close to the big boys in Spain instead of challenging for the title. Unable to strengthen with signings in the summer, Cholo has set out to not only keep Atlético competitive but improve them through work on the training ground. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but with the team sitting in second ahead of Real there won’t be too many complaints. Vitolo and Diego Costa will hopefully provide a spark moving forward.
Team Grade – B-
Back to back defeats to end the first half of the season sees La Liga’s surprise package team sitting in 3rd place at the moment which is well above expectations following their 12th place finish last season.
Best Player – Simone Zaza
A man reborn. The Italian has found a home in Spain and it’s hard to begrudge him the success. His goals and overall play are the main reason Valencia have surprised us all.
Quiet Achiever – Geoffery Kondogbia
He’s clearly not the next reincarnation of Patrick Vieira, but Kondogbia is another example of a much-maligned player who has found a home at Valencia. Links to other clubs have started to surface, but if he knows what’s best for him, he’ll pitch his tent at the Mestalla because whatever they are doing over there is working for him.
Worst Player – No one
Everyone’s played their part.
Manager – Marcelino
After guiding Villarreal to European success during his last La Liga stint, Marcelino’s hard-line, no-nonsense style of coaching has clearly rubbed off on this lot. They’re playing harder, faster and, thanks to a combination of astute signings and getting the most out of seemingly average players has Los Che halfway towards a return to Champions League football.
Team Grade – B+