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LaLiga Team of the Season
In this latest guest post, the guys from La Liga Lowdown pick their best XI from the competition in 2022-23. Here's what they chose...
After another fascinating season, the time has come to pick the most outstanding performers from the Spanish top flight. The La Liga Lowdown squad discussed the various options and decided upon the following XI.
Marc-André ter Stegen (Barcelona)
There can be little doubt about this selection surely? A man who was written off in recent years as past his best and perhaps even a liability, this season he has produced his career-best form. He kept 26 clean sheets, equalling the record of Deportivo La Coruña’s Francisco Liaño. Had Barcelona not eased off following their confirmation as champions, he probably would have set a new record in his own right.
Arnau Martínez (Girona)
The Catalan produced a sensational catalogue of performances in his debut season in the top flight. Having only just turned 20, he looks to be a complete all-rounder with a seemingly limitless ceiling. He typifies one of the trends of the season identified by Scouted Football: that of the inverted full-back. He is just as comfortable moving infield and helping generate overloads in central areas as he is getting up and down the right flank joining attacks and helping to create. Three goals and four assists for a young defender playing in a promoted side speaks for itself.
Ronald Araújo (Barcelona)
The leader of the Blaugrana rearguard which formed the bedrock of their title-winning campaign. The Uruguayan has bags of talent and the temperament to go with it. His application when moving to the right to specifically deal with Vini Jr in the Clásicos illustrated his versatility and aptitude for game intelligence. His absences in the Champions League were costly in more ways than one. He offers a threat from set pieces, and is improving his in-possession game all the time. Undoubtedly he will be fundamental in the further development of Xavi’s project.
Andreas Christensen (Barcelona)
One of the summer arrivals courtesy of Laporta’s levers, the Danish international slotted into the back four and fits like a glove. The perfect accompaniment to the physicality of his partner, Christensen has the cool and calm head to read the game and anticipate danger effectively. His style of play is somewhat reminiscent of Raphaël Varane. Of the Chelsea defenders who moved to LaLiga last summer, many observers concluded that Real Madrid got the better deal by acquiring Antonio Rüdiger, but Christensen has proven those doubters wrong in emphatic fashion.
Alejandro Balde (Barcelona)
Yes, another defender from the champions is included in our XI. With only 20 goals conceded all season (and only 13 at the time they sealed the title), it seems appropriate to include numerous members of Xavi’s rearguard. Balde, like Arnau, has exploded into prominence this season, effectively retiring Jordi Alba in the process. Already called up by Spain too, Balde is set for a lengthy career at the top of the game.
Following in the tradition of Barça full-backs of old, he loves to get forward and create danger. He set up six goals in LaLiga this season; only the front three of Raphinha, Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski provided more assists for the club. Another young man with composure and talent in abundance, Balde will be a feature for years.
Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad)
Merino has played at some top clubs around Europe, but never has he felt more at home than Real Sociedad. The best midfielder at a club who excel in producing them, he is the representative for Imanol’s tactical scheme on the pitch. Capable of playing deeper or in more advanced positions in the diamond-style formation, he is astute at finding the pockets of space and interlinks with his fellow technical companions like Martin Zubimendi, Brais Méndez or David Silva. His chance creation went up a level this season, too, as he produced nine assists in the league. When he scored against Barcelona last month, he became just the second opponent to score at Camp Nou in the league this season.
Sergi Darder (Espanyol)
Espanyol may have been relegated for the second time in four years, but Darder is blameless in their demise. His leadership and technical ability kept them in with a fighting chance when others around him were simply not good enough. Darderismo represented almost everything good about this Espanyol side; his goals, assists and drive from midfield were essential for a struggling team. An admirable player who did not shy away from discussing his battle with depression, his emotional flash interview when relegation was confirmed was tough to watch. While his love for the club is beyond doubt, it is almost inevitable that he will be back in LaLiga next season.
Isi Palazón (Rayo Vallecano)
If you know, you know. A hidden gem in LaLiga, a player so good he would have been capped by almost every other national team had he not been a Spanish midfielder. Luis Enrique knew it, referring to Isi in a press conference before the World Cup. Affectionately dubbed ‘the bald Beckham’ by some, he is adored in Vallecas and is playing the best football of his career. Nine goals and five assists from midfield is an impressive return, and his ability to dictate the tempo of games is a key asset for Rayo. The club from Vallecas may be losing their star in coach Andoni Iraola, but they will be hopeful of keeping their own MVP.
Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)
The best player in LaLiga this season. A unanimous choice for all of us at LLL, the Frenchman is back to his very brilliant best. There is a case to say Atleti was the best team in 2023, and Griezmann is the main reason why. Now (re)settled at the club, he has won back the trust of the fans and the love from Diego Simeone, who has constructed his team around Griezmann like he did before. He was directly involved in more goals than any other LaLiga player last season (15 goals and 16 assists), 14 of which came since the beginning of April.
It is easy to forget that for the first portion of the campaign, he was only playing 30 minutes per game to save Atleti from paying a clause in his loan agreement. That seems a lifetime ago now. It is no coincidence that Atleti’s resurgence coincided with the resolution of Griezmann’s future. If he can maintain this form into next season, Atleti could mount a title challenge. As another French forward leaves the league, Griezmann now becomes the poster boy.
Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona)
Xavi’s side may have the best defensive record in the league, but they needed someone at the other end of the pitch to put the chances away. Lewandowski was that man, winning the Pichichi in his debut season without scoring any penalties. He instantly adapted to a new league, new teammates, a new home, new culture. The proven goalscorer delivered, Laporta’s high ticket purchase paid off.
The Pole did suffer a drop-off in form after the World Cup, but managed to shake it off towards the back end of the campaign. Given Ansu Fati’s issues and Ferran Torres’ generally underwhelming season, Lewandowski was probably the difference between Barça winning the league or falling short.
Vinícius Júnior (Real Madrid)
The only Real Madrid player on the list, which tells its own story about the defence of their title, Vini has stepped up another gear again this season, outperforming his numbers from 2021-22. With Karim Benzema not quite reaching his previous levels, Vini has been the leader of the attack, and led it well overall. During the period from the March international break to the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, the Brazilian was involved in at least one goal in every game, including the opening assist in the Copa del Rey final, in which he tormented Osasuna’s defence.
Sadly and despicably, he has been repeatedly targeted with abuse at numerous away grounds this season, abuse which reached fever pitch at Mestalla last month. Hopefully he is not deterred from staying in this league because he is one of its superstars. Real Madrid will be looking to him more than ever before to fill the void left by Benzema, and Vini himself will have to find another player to combine with.
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