Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez and Gerard Pique make Balague's XI of the season... and Messi is the Sky Sports pundit's player of the year
Saturday 23 May 2015 09:40, UK
The end of the La Liga season is upon us, and we have been blessed with a tense title race, some glittering new arrivals and a fierce top four battle.
There are few givens in football, but the inclusion of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a best XI is one of them.
But how well are Real Madrid and champions Barcelona represented elsewhere on the Sky Sports pundit's team sheet?
Claudio Bravo (Barcelona)
"The 32-year-old Chilean goalkeeper was a legend at his former club Real Sociedad, his country for who he has played 89 times, and now for Barcelona for who he has kept a record breaking 23 clean sheets this season on his way to a la Liga winners medal. The 'keeper has conceded just 19 goals in 37 games and has fitted seamlessly into the space vacated by club legend Victor Valdes."
Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
"Just 23 years old and has made the right-back berth at Real Madrid his own ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa. Strong and skilful, he has now been called up by Spain boss Vicente del Bosque and looks certain to be part of the future of Spain’s defence."
Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
"After a sticky patch during the first half of the season, the charismatic central defender, who seems to have been around forever, is back to his very best and certainly one of Luis Enrique’s preferred starting XI."
Nicolas Otamendi (Valencia)
"Valencia’s improvement and challenge for Champions League qualification is due in no small part to the efforts of this excellent central defender, who in addition to great defence has a habit of weighing in with important goals, namely the winner to ended Real Madrid’s 22-match unbeaten run. On the radar of a host of top clubs."
Jose Luis Gaya (Valencia)
"Just 19 years old and unquestionably one of the players of the season. Gaya has been at Valencia for all of his youth career, making his debut for the first team aged just 17. Regarded in Spain as a nailed-on successor to Jordi Alba at left back for the national team, with the amount of top clubs chasing him, the chances are he will play his domestic football away from Valencia in future."
James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)
"Despite being played out of position, James settled quickly into a star-studded Real Madrid side since his big money move from Monaco after the World Cup. Adored by the fans, his nine-match absence through injury coincided with Real’s worst run. Real have much to thank the 23-year-old Colombian, who plays his football with a smile on his face."
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla)
"Another real find by Sevilla, who bought him from Stade Reims for what now looks like a bargain 4.5million euros, Krychowiak can also put in a shift in central defence. Unquestionably one of the biggest reasons Sevilla are a good bet to regain the Europa League."
Nolito (Celta Vigo)
"An exciting, fast, skilful, winger and forward, the late developer has enjoyed a purple patch this season earning him first-ever call up for Spain at the age of 28. Nolito won player of the month back in September, and hasn't looked back since."
Leo Messi (Barcelona)
"If you don’t think Ronaldo is the greatest of all time, then you probably think Leo Messi is. Quite simply a phenomenal player who has somehow got even better this time around with the addition of a new midfield game to his stunning goalscoring prowess. The very essence of what has made – and continues to make – Barcelona arguably the greatest club side of all time."
Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
"After a slow start following his biting ban, the Uruguayan has shown with Barcelona what we always knew, namely that he is one of the greatest strikers in world football today. Strong, skilful, lethal, with Messi laying chances on from midfield, he can score goals for fun and on his day is unplayable."
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
"Current holder of the Ballon d’Or, and almost guaranteed of this year’s Pichichi with 45 goals (four more than Leo Messi) Cristiano is without question one of the greatest players of all time, and in the opinion of some, the greatest. He scored in each of his first 11 league games of the season, and has an incredible seven hat-tricks this season.
"Enjoy both Messi and Ronaldo, and count your blessings that you have been able to see both of them play not just in the same era, but in the same league and on the same pitch. Make the most of it, because I truly believe that we will not see their like again."
Player of the year
"Sorry if this is a bit boring but it has to be Leo Messi and by a long, long way. Not just for all the goals he scores but perhaps even more because of the huge number of assists as well. In a league of his own."
Alternative player of the year (outside the top five)
"Aleix Vidal is a player who can make a difference. Carlos Bacca as well. Chances are he will be the main reason Sevilla could win the Europa League for second year in a row and fourth time in total."
Flop of the year
"Mario Mandzukic, although it probably isn’t all his fault because the system that makes Atletico Madrid stronger, relying on fast counter and speed up front... it does not suit him. Also Gerard Deulofeu, who you sense is in the last chance saloon at Sevilla. Luis Enrique wasn’t impressed with his attitude at Barcelona and nor it seems is Unai Emery. A waste of talent that Everton are rumoured to be interested in."
Young player of the year
"Antoine Griezmann. A sensational player that settled in perfectly after a slow start. Had he been used properly by Diego Simeone in the Champions League quarter-final, Atletico would probably have beaten Real. James Rodriguez has also been excellent despite being made to play out of position. Luciano Vietto at Villarreal also deserves a mention."
Who to look out for next season
"Dennis Suarez has show in flashes what he can do at Sevilla, and it will be very interesting to see if Martin Odegaard after all the hype finally settles in at Real Madrid and graduates to the first team."