Spanish Football Expert & Columnist @GuillemBalague
Guillem Balague picks his managers of the season in La Liga
Last Updated: 14/05/18 2:07pm
Last week Guillem Balague picked his players of the year in La Liga, so now it's time for the managers...
Despite a crazy game against Levante which cost Barcelona their invincibles tag, my number one pick is Ernesto Valverde, who has taken Barcelona to a domestic double in his first season.
It's all the more impressive when you consider what happened in pre-season, when Lionel Messi shocked him by telling him that he thought Neymar was leaving.
Valverde sat down with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to try and resolve the situation, but when he realised it was impossible, he had to keep a cool head and work out the best way forward.
Here's how he has changed the team. The front three is no more, but it has allowed Valverde to strengthen the midfield. Ivan Rakitic is playing in a deeper role next to Sergio Busquets, which is part of the reason why Barcelona have only conceded 29 goals compared to 37 last season.
The emphasis on the midfield has ended the debate about Barcelona's style that we heard during Luis Enrique's time in charge, and Valverde has also been rewarded for giving Messi more freedom to drop deep.
Messi has been typically prolific, scoring 34 La Liga goals, but as these statistics show, he is also creating more. By spending more time in midfield, he has been able to create more chances, more big chances, and provide more assists than he did last season.
Valverde still has his doubters on Barcelona's board, as we saw with the stories that appeared in the Spanish press before the Copa del Rey final, but the players have shown they are behind him and the club now want to activate the final year of his two-plus-one year contract.
As well as Paco Lopez, who has masterminded Levante's turnaround and inspired them to that 5-4 win over Barcelona, and Quique Setien, who has taken Real Betis into Europe with some brilliant football, my next pick is Marcelino.
The former Villarreal manager has revived Valencia brilliantly, taking them back into the top four in his first season in charge. It started in the summer when, together with general director Mateu Alemany, Marcelino cleared out the disruptive influences in the dressing room and constructed the youngest squad in La Liga.
His coaching has made them stronger collectively, and he has also brought the best out of individuals such as Rodrigo, who has scored 16 goals, and PSG loanee Goncalo Guedes, who has looked like a superstar in the making.
Next up is Jose Bordalas, who has done an excellent job with eighth-placed Getafe having guided them back into the top flight last season. Bordalas' side are criticised for being overly-aggressive, but really it is a way of maximising what they have.
They do not score many goals, but they are formidable at the back. This season, only Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have conceded fewer goals (33).
Aberlardo is another manager who has caught the eye. Alaves were heading towards relegation when he was appointed in December, but he has changed their fortunes completely, tightening them up at the back and getting them scoring at the other end.
From 19th place, with just three wins from 14 games, Alaves are now 12th. And in fact, if the season had started in December, they would be fifth.
The last manager in my list is Pablo Machin, whose newly-promoted Girona side sit 11th in the table. At one point, it even looked like the tiny team from Catalonia might challenge for a European place.
A lot was made of their signings from partner club Manchester City, but what's most impressive about their success this season is that it has been achieved with the same core of players who won them promotion last year.
Machin deserves huge credit for keeping faith with the likes of Portu, Borja Garcia, Juanpe and Alex Granell and bringing the absolute best out of them.
So what's your verdict on my selection? Have your say in the comments section below.
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