An incredible last few minutes to the season which saw two goals in two minutes in two different stadiums relegate a Champions League regular in the shape of Villarreal, masked a Spanish league campaign split in two.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated in recent years, but this time the gap was even more profound. Los Blancos broke the 100-points mark for the first time in La Liga history and finished a staggering 39 points ahead of third-placed Valencia.
Barça’s numbers weren’t too shabby either, particularly for one Lionel Messi who scored more than any man has in a major European league with 72; 50 of those in La Liga.
Therefore, it is understandable why our team of the year is filled with players from either end of the Clásico divide, but there is also a highly deserving representative from Malaga, who fired the Andalusians to their first ever top-four finish.
However, we start with the other non-Barcelona/Real Madrid selection. Athletic Bilbao’s radical change of style under Marcelo Bielsa has been one of the season’s highlights and while fantastic to watch for the neutral, their open and high-intensity pressing game requires a strong goalkeeper to bail them out when caught out at the back. And, in Gorka Iraizoz, that is exactly what they have had.
Depsite finishing 10th, Athletic conceded the third highest number of shots in the league (571/15 per game) and in turn he produced the second most saves in the league (147). With Bilbao adopting such a high defensive line, Iraizoz was also often forced out of his area to play a sweeper role, which he did to great effect.
Defensively, it is clean sweep for the two giants, with two representatives each.
Starting at left-back, Marcelo has had his best season in a Real Madrid shirt and been a major factor in their ability to regain the title after a four-year drought. The Brazilian has combined brilliantly with Cristiano Ronaldo in an attacking sense and has often run the line himself to allow the Portuguese to move into more central areas where he can be so deadly.
The former Fluminense man is the league’s fifth best dribbler with two successful attempts per game and has also provided a healthy five assists and three goals.
Beside him, Sergio Ramos has turned back the clock to his early days at Sevilla by playing the full season at centre-back and, whilst Real have missed his energetic bursts from right-back, they have been more than compensated with a central defender who has the pace to cope with balls played down the channels and power to win headers in vital areas. The Spanish international has also contributed three goals and five assists, another demonstration of how Real managed to smash the league’s scoring record with goals coming from every position on the pitch.
The two Barcelona players in the back four may come as a surprise for contrasting reasons.
Javier Mascherano has continued where he left off last season by moving back from his natural position as a holding midfield player to become the league’s highest rated central defender with a Whoscored average rating of 7.3. The Argentine has been fantastically consistent in the absence of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique due to a combination of form and fitness. His numbers of interceptions (3.5 per game) and tackles (3.6 per game) are fantastic given how little the opposition have the ball against Barcelona and he has also adapted the natural aggressiveness in his game to be more controlled, conceding only 0.9 fouls per game and being sent-off only once (and even that dismissal came with the game already finished against Osasuna in February).
Moreover, Mascherano has knitted perfectly into Barça’s passing game with an average of 67 passes a game at a successful completion percentage of 89%.
Dani Alves meanwhile, is more of a surprise because for many he has been far from his best this season. However, that is more of an indication of just how high the standards expected of him are.
The Brazilian has still provided the sixth highest number of assists in the league with 11 and scored two goals himself, whilst his Whoscored rating of 7.21 is well ahead of his nearest rival for the right-back slot, Alvaro Arbeloa, on 7.02.
The central midfield duo of Xavi and Xabi will go a long way to deciding whether Spain will retain their European crown this summer. The Real midfielder won his first championship at the age of 30 this season and has at times been as fundamental to the side as the more glamorous names of Ronaldo, Higuaín and Benzema.
The former Liverpool midfielder has completed the second most passes in the league this season, only behind his metronomic namesake at Barcelona, with 78 per game at a success rate of 88%, but more than just passing for the sake of it, Alonso is key in many of Real’s devastating counter-attacks as he spreads the ball accurately and quickly to leave opposition defences exposed against the pace of Madrid’s frontline.
Xavi, for his part, has continued to shine even in a season where injuries have taken their toll. The 32-year-old has had his best goalscoring season with 14 in all competitions and has continued to set the bar for passing statistics with nearly 94 passes per game at a 92% completion rate.
Malaga’s Santi Cazorla breaks the Barca/Madrid duopoly thanks to his fantastic debut season with Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Last season Cazorla’s Villarreal finished fourth with Malaga just three points above the relegation zone in 11th and although the turnaround in each club’s fortunes have a number of contributory factors, his €20m transfer last summer is by far the greatest.
Almost everything good about Malaga’s play this year has revolved around him (Player Focus), whilst his nine goals and five assists have helped him become the fourth highest rated player in the league, behind only Messi, Ronaldo and Xavi.
His consistency is even more staggering given that he and Zaragoza goalkeeper Roberto were the only two players to start every league game this season. The Euros awaits and with eyes focused elsewhere in the Spanish side, Cazorla could have just as big an impact in Poland and Ukraine this summer.
Up front, it is easiest to start with Karim Benzema before the superlatives run dry. The Frenchman has evolved from Jose Mourinho’s quiet cat to attack dog this season, scoring 32 times in all competitions, but more than that he has been a great team player.
Happy to play in a variety of positions, his all-round game has seen him preferred to Higuaín in almost all the big games and as his WhoScored profile suggests, he has no major weaknesses.
And then there is those two. The two for which words on here will do no justice. Numbers, though, perhaps will. When Ronaldo scored 42 league goals last season he broke the league record, he went four better this season, and it still wasn’t enough to win the Pichichi.
Ronaldo also showed a side of his game that is often criticised with 12 assists, the fourth highest in the league.
Messi, however, was slightly better in both those categories as he not only defied belief with his 50 goals, but was also the league’s second highest assist maker with 16, meaning he played a direct role in 58% of Barcelona’s goals. It goes without saying that Messi was the highest rated player across all the major leagues with an average rating of 8.91, but the most ridiculous statistic of all may be that in his 37 league appearances, he was Man of the Match in 24.