Welcome to the not top 3 La Liga All-Star Team! First, I owe you an explanation of the not top 3 All-Stars. It would be pretty boring and pretty easy to make a La Liga All Star Team (or most top tier European leagues, if we’re being honest). Most neutrals’ line-up would look like this:
Messi—James – Busi – Neymar
Notice anything here? Pretty boring, right? A lot of those spots you could argue about, but more than likely it would end up with someone from Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Atletico. Drab, isn’t it? That’s where the not-top-3 comes in! Who were the best players of the La Liga season who didn’t reside at one of the powerhouses? Lets have a look.
This is one position where the not top 3 actually could be better off. Of course, Bravo has been special this year and has the stats to back it up, but the amount of pressure he has felt all year as FCB’s keeper has to be taken into account, as often times he goes whole matches untested. Asenjo and Diego Alves have been wonderful this year facing more shots and pressure. Either one has a legitimate claim to the best Liga keeper this year. I’m going to go with Asenjo as the starter. Other keepers may be more consistent or mature in possession, but Asenjo has just made some incredible saves that meant a lot to Villarreal. He’s my choice with Alves backing him up. The not top 3 have the keeper position locked up.
As much as the top 3 have the league locked down, Villareal and Valencia have incredibly stout defenses. Firstly, there is Nicolas Otamendi, who would make my first team La Liga All Stars, much less the not top 3. He has been incredible all year, fearless with his back to the goal, always communicating and keeping shape, has the pace to make up for mistakes, and is a beast in the air. I know that Pique has had a great renaissance this year, but I might even name Otamendi the top CB in all of La Liga this year. I watched him go 1v1 with Messi and come out the better more than most defenders.
You could make a few arguments over who his partner should be, but I would stick with Valencia where Otamendi already has an excellent partnership with Shkodran Mustafi. Valencia’s summer signing has been worth all of the reported €8m that was spent (also showing that now that Valencia has some money they will soon be challenging the top Liga teams), forming a shrewd and effective defensive pairing that has propelled them towards Champions League play.
On the left wing there is Jose Gaya, also of Valencia, which shows how strong their backline was this year. The young wing back broke out this season after learning at the Mestalla academy (which also produced Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat). His pace and endurance bombing forward on the wing and tracking back to harass were phenomenal this year (thankfully for cules, he spurned Madrid to sign a new contract at Valencia, though the new, 50m buyout clause shows that Valencia intends to challenge the hegemony).
On the right I would have Mario. The young right back coming into his prime has developed wonderfully at Villareal. Although he doesn’t get linked to Barca as often as other RBs, his penchant for pushing forward and joining the attack make him a good candidate to take Dani Alves post after he moves on in the future.
This area of the field is a little more difficult, as it does seem like the top 3 have a stranglehold on the position. Daniel Parejo has certainly earned his spot as either a central or attacking mid. After a slow but progressive career at Valencia, he broke out this year to become one of the highest scoring midfielders in La Liga with 12 goals thus far.
Bruno would get the nod as the defensive midfielder. He has been stingy at the back, averaging almost 3 tackles and 3 interceptions a match. He’s another one of the reasons Villareal have a strong defense. And, hey, if you thought this was actually just the Valencia/Villareal all-stars, I have Xabi Prieto as my second central/attacking mid. He’s racked up a solid 10 goals and assists combined in Liga and did his best to keep Real Sociedad in the Europa League (3 goals in 4 appearances). He’s also created over 40 chances. He’s earned this one.
The left side forward/attacking midfielder had a great year in La Liga. Nolito and Cheryshev stand out the most outside of Neymar and Griezmann. Personally, I would go with Nolito. Cheryshev is younger and possibly had higher highs, but also lower lows and less consistency. Nolito had his issues, but has been great since he got going, scoring goals and making assists with over 20 combined on the year.
On the other side, I am going with Pablo Piatti. Some may not remember, but Piatti was deemed surplus on Valencia’s left side a few years ago because our very own Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu. Perseverance and a change in regimes have done him wonderfully and he has established himself as a key starter in the last few years. On a team with a strong defense that still struggles to score, he has contributed 7 goals and 6 assists on the year.
Finally, the center forward I’m going with is Carlos Bacca. There are a few other good candidates, but I like Bacca’s combination of size, strength and skill. A good finisher, he wouldn’t have to worry about creating his own shots because my mids and wingers can handle that. He is good on the counter, can lay off passes to teammates, and can finish strongly. Aside from his 20 goals, he also has 6 assists and 28 chances created.
And so you have a nice, pretty visual of the whole thing:
Diego Alves (GK)
Gregorz Krychowiak (DM)
Denis Cheryshev (AML)
Alberto Bueno (F)
Valencia is going to be really good, really soon. This might become the not top 4 in the coming years. More than anything, though, this little exercise has shown me that the amount of talent between Barcelona, Real, and Atletico is staggering. However, and more importantly, this has reminded me how great of a league this is, how many talented footballers reside here, and how smart some of the managing is. It makes me think that the more money the clubs outside of the top 3 get, the more competitive the league will get, and the more Spanish clubs will feature in European competition. All good things!
Now it's your turn; if you had to pick a La Liga All Stars team without using players from Barça, Real or Atletico, what would it look like?