It’s been another eventful season in Spain, with LaLiga’s title race going to the wire, Real Sociedad collecting their first Copa del Rey trophy in 32 years, and Lionel Messi habitually leading the Pichichi race.
So, as we approach the finishing line, now would be a pertinent moment to reflect on the season, and assess the standout candidates who have contributed to such captivating and drama-fuelled campaign. With that, who have been the top 10 players in LaLiga for 2020/21?
10. Mikel Oyarzabal
It’s been a strange season for Real Sociedad, one that can boast the heights of a mythical Copa del Rey victory over their greatest rivals Athletic Club and the lows of a Europa League humbling at the hands of Manchester United, as well as an inability to compete with Sevilla for a Champions League place. Key to everything good in Donostia, however, has undoubtedly been 24-year-old captain Mikel Oyarzabal. The forward has operated with a maturity and leadership that belies his tender years, complemented consistently by high-level performances. The Basque contributed 11 goals and eight assists in 32 league games, and could be an important figure for La Roja this summer.
9. Jules Koundé
Braids one week, an afro the next, Jules Koundé likes changing hairstyles but never the standard of his performances. The Frenchman emerged a different beast post-lockdown last season and carried his excellent form into this campaign, proving himself one of the best young centre-backs in the European game and embodying the lithe, fearless ambition with which Sevilla have operated. Cold-blooded, able to win the ball cleanly and confident progressing it forward, the 22-year-old is a truly unique prospect and looks set to continue his swift ascent. Content learning under Julen Lopetegui in a side that fought for the title to the death, his future is bright. Sevilla have kept 16 clean sheets this season and Koundé was integral to that record, playing 33 games.
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8. Thibaut Courtois
Eden Hazard made headlines with his laughter after Real Madrid were knocked out of the Champions League, but the other Belgian ex-Chelsea player in Los Blancos’ squad has done nothing but earn admiration this season. Thibaut Courtois is effusive in his love of life in the Spanish capital, and his unusual personality fits the cold-eyed drive for excellence and titles that defines the club’s essence like a glove. Madrid have kept 17 clean sheets this term and Courtois has been essential to every one, playing in all 37 league games. This season has been the one where the 29-year-old has gone from being an excellent goalkeeper to one of the best in the European game. A pillar of the Madrid backline amidst a tough year, he’s taken his game to the next level.
7. Gerard Moreno
Villarreal are in dreamland, preparing for their first-ever Europa League final against Manchester United on 26th May and right in the domestic battle for a place in next season’s edition with Real Betis and Real Sociedad. An integral element to their success has been the intelligence, guile and consistency of Gerard Moreno, a man who’s been one of the best Spanish players in LaLiga this season. The 29-year-old has scored 23 goals and supplied six assists in 32 league appearances, always with a stylish bent. Ten of his goals have been penalties, but also 14 of them have been first goals, which means they’re very rarely meaningless.
6. Marcos Llorente
Phenomenally fit and enviably handsome, Marcos Llorente is a hard-running, intermittent-fasting machine. His star turn in the Champions League against Liverpool last season is where he made his name, but Llorente really thrives in the day-to-day. Jan Oblak and Luis Suárez have been massive for Atlético Madrid in their title challenge, decisive at either end, but it’s Llorente who truly embodies their ethos. Deemed expendable by Real Madrid, his family’s club, he’s bounced back under Diego Simeone on the other side of the city with a vengeance. The 26-year-old has contributed 12 goals and 11 assists in 36 league appearances, maintaining a pass completion rate of 84.3%.
5. Luka Modrić
Like a fine wine that’s only gotten better with age, Luka Modrić has been a revelation at the heart of Real Madrid’s midfield this season. The sheer consistency of the excellence he’s demonstrated since its beginning made him impossible to leave out, and one of the first names on Zinedine Zidane’s team sheet, a contributing factor in Martin Ødegaard’s decision to leave on loan in search of first-team football. The Croatian has been indestructible, indefatigable and an oasis of serenity in a chaotic season for the champions; a mouse with a monster mentality playing 34 games at 35. Modrić has maintained the laser-like pass completion accuracy of 88.3% and contributed four goals and three assists as his team have taken the title race right to the wire.
Luka Modric has now scored four La Liga goals for Real Madrid this season.
The most goals he has managed in a single league campaign since he scored four for Tottenham in the 2011/2012 season. ? pic.twitter.com/tvN3gNIeQU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2021
4. Jan Oblak
If Luis Suárez’s ruthlessness in front of goal has made Atlético Madrid lethal in the final third, it’s been goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s freakish ability in their own that’s given them the stability that Diego Simeone’s sides are renowned for. Atlético have kept 18 clean sheets this term, more than anyone else in LaLiga, and the 28-year-old Slovenian can claim a good deal of responsibility for that record having played all 37 league games this season as his side have chased the title. A man with ice in his veins and a steely gaze, Oblak has proven himself to be one of, if not the best goalkeepers in the world with his bionically consistent performances between the sticks.
3. Karim Benzema
Compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema has often been considered the lesser light of that fearsome Real Madrid attacking trident, especially by those who don’t understand his role. Last season the Frenchman was key in Los Blancos’ title charge, however, and this season he’s at times been the only thing holding what has been a creaking ship together, hitting 22 goals and providing eight assists in 33 league games at 33 years of age. You don’t spend a decade at the Santiago Bernabéu if you’re not made of stern stuff, and Benzema is finally getting the respect he deserves in the Spanish capital as he enters the autumn of his career. A long overdue recall to the France squad for the Euros could help them win back-to-back major trophies this summer.
Most goals scored in a La Liga season by Karim Benzema:
◎ 15/16: ⚽24 goals
◉ 20/21: ⚽22 goals
◎ 19/20: ⚽21 goals
◎ 18/19: ⚽21 goals
◎ 11/12 ⚽21 goals
He still has time to set a new PB this season. pic.twitter.com/4zXhFXKHIb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2021
2. Luis Suárez
Cast aside like a blunt knife by Barcelona last close-season, Luis Suárez has shown he has no intention of going gently into the night since joining Atlético Madrid. The Uruguayan has burned with fire and desire ever since he landed in the Spanish capital, driven by a rage to prove the doubters wrong. The 34-year-old has hit 20 goals and provided three assists in 31 league appearances, his attacking output proving pivotal to Los Rojiblancos’ title challenge, but what’s benefited Diego Simeone’s side most is his spirit; Suárez brings title-winning know-how and an unmatched competitive drive, something set alight given the point he has to prove.
1. Lionel Messi
It’s been a tumultuous season for Lionel Messi, one that’s neither started nor ended as he would have hoped. He took a while to get going after his failed exit last summer, but the Barcelona captain hit the straps upon his return from an extended Christmas break in Argentina with his family. Messi has scored 30 goals and contributed nine assists in 35 league games, maintaining a pass completion percentage of 85.1% and inspiring the Blaugrana to an unlikely LaLiga title challenge as well as victory in the Copa del Rey. The 33-year-old will be unhappy with how the former petered out, but it may have been enough progress to extend his stay at Camp Nou beyond this summer.