Chelsea Target Falcao And The La Liga Team Of 2012...
As the floodlights are switched off for the final time in 2012 and La Liga takes its winter break, Spanish football looks back at another successful year. Whilst they may have failed to retain the Champions League, a Spanish club did manage to win the Europa League and the European Super Cup. The senior international side won Euro 2012 and Messi looks set for another Ballon D’Or. Selecting the best XI is never easy and there are always differences of opinion, it’s what makes football so interesting. I have gone for a 4-3-3 formation, with one or two surprises. So who makes my team of the year?
Víctor Valdés – Barcelona
And the controversy starts from the off. Let’s get some things clear from the very start: this is for club football - and while San Iker is probably the best keeper in the world, Valdés was performed better this year. He won the Zamora trophy (An award handed out by Marca for the best keeper of the season) and although some may point out that so far this season he has conceded four more than Casillas it must be pointed out that like what happened a few times last season, this season Barca have had many problems with injuries at the back and have been forced at times to play midfielders out of position. He pulled off some amazing saves and been responsible for a few results going Barca’s way. Valdés has been solid and if it were not for his Madrid counterpart, he would receive much more praise.
Dani Alves – Barcelona
One of the hardest decisions for this side. Alves takes it but he had some competition this year. Álvaro Arbeloa was one possible candidate. Juanfran from Atlético, the midfielder who switched to right back, has had an impressive year but has been prone to the odd mistake. There was also Andoni Iraola of Athletic Club and Nacho Monreal from Málaga who both had a very good year but the man nicknamed ‘Moto GP’ nicks it. The Brazilian who provided 12 assists in 33 games last season has had a little dip in form lately but that can be put down to Barca’s turmoil at the back and also his own injury woes but with things getting back to normal expect to see plenty of Alves bombing down the wing.
Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid
Influential, strong and determined, just a few words that describe Ramos as he continues to impress and become one of the world’s best defenders. Originally a right back, he has proved the doubters wrong, including this writer, about whether he could make it as a central defender. May not be from the Santiago Bernabeu Cantera but when he is on the pitch he bleeds Real Madrid. A natural leader, he has all the qualities of a Captain and fills the role when Casillas is not there. Has had a few problems with Mourinho this season but on the record both claim there are no issues. A fan favourite but the only problem he may face in his future is that he will always be remembered more for his actions in 2011, dropping the Copa Del Rey, but still at just 26, Ramos will only get better.
Sergio Ballesteros - Levante
This will cause a surprise or two but one of the few consistent performers over the last 12 months. Carles Puyol had long injury spells, Gerard Piqué’s form came and went and at Atlético Godín and Miranda have only recently started to show their true potential. Like Ramos, he may be remembered for an event in 2011 (Against Real Madrid he outpaced Ronaldo) but on a personal level 2012 was great for the former Villarreal man. He lead by example as Levante qualified for Europe for the 1st time in their history. Most thought that they would come crashing back to earth but they are in the top half of the table and in the Europa league spots again. Has been suggested as a possible short-term solution to Spain’s injury problems at central defence but at 37, few believe he will get called up.
Filipe Luis - Atlético
Falcao may be grabbing the headlines but the Brazilian defender has become many writers left back of the year. Jordi Alba was also a candidate but the former Deportivo de la Coruña man is finally getting the merit he deserves. He has formed a vital link up with Arda Turan, which has seen Atlético de Madrid return to competing at the top. His runs forward, cutting in at the last moment and his pass into the area where a waiting team mate finishes the job has become a regular sight at the Vicente Calderon and around Spain this year. Signed by Atlético two years ago after recovering from a career threatening injury, under Diego Simeone he has grown into a fine player. If Atleti fail to get Champions League football, offers will come in.
Andrés Iniesta - Barcelona
Well nobody can disagree with this choice, can they? Not much of an explanation is needed but the player who scored his first international goal for Spain against England back in 2007 just seems to get better and better. Nominated again for the Ballon D’Or, he knows that Messi has more than likely got his name engraved on it already. While he was disappointed to lose the league to Real Madrid last season, he at times appears to have made it a personal mission to make up for it this year and his display against Athletic Club at the start of December was just about perfect. At just 28, there is plenty more to come.
Xabi Alonso - Real Madrid
A look at the Real Madrid squad and one could be forgiven for thinking that Xabi sticks out like a sore thumb. No spending 20 minutes after games making sure the hair is perfect for this man. It is perhaps for that reason that Florentino Perez wanted him. Xabi was a key element when Real Madrid ran away with the title, racking up a record of goals and points. While others grab the headlines, the former Liverpool man is content to do his talking with his feet. A gent on and off the pitch, has said that he would like to maybe finish his career at Real Sociedad but still has some good years left in him.
Arda Turan - Atlético
The ‘Turkish Messi’ they call him. When he touches the ball the Calderon faithful chant his name to the tune of ‘When the saints go marching in’. Yes, Arda has taken to La Liga like a duck to water and only continues to impress. He is more than just an attacker though. He can defend and is not afraid to put in a tackle or two. When he arrived in Spain there were questions marks surrounding his fitness and temperament and while he showed flashes of brilliance under Gregorio Manzano it wasn’t until Simeone took over in 2012 that the Turk became a consistent performer. He is already attracting attention and praise from abroad and has admitted to being a Liverpool fan but beware Atleti will fight tooth and nail to keep their star.
Leo Messi - Barcelona
And they shall call him Leo. Writers from all over the world are cursing the player known as ‘the flea’ as they search their thesauruses in vain to find a superlative to describe Messi that hasn’t been already used. So far this season there has not been one game where he has scored just one single league goal. Eleven times he has scored a brace and one hat trick. He has scored against 15 different teams and all this since August. Overall he has surpassed Gerd Muller goal scoring record for goals in a calendar year and well… what more can be said? Messi is Messi. The only disappointment is the constant ‘Stoke on a cold Wednesday night’ comment that critics continue to use. Let me tell you, Valladolid any day of the week would have brass monkeys in tears.
Radamel Falcao - Atlético
Falcao came to fill the big shoes left by Kun Agüero and at the start it looked like he would fail to live up to the task. With decent home games but some poor away performances there were a few at Atleti that thought a swap deal for the man known as El Tigre for Fernando Torres would not be such a bad thing. Then came Simeone and 2012. When he got his first home goal of the year against Villarreal, Coach Simeone complained that he could have had more. Eleven months later he became the first Rojiblanco player in 50 years to score five goals in one game and also surpassed Diego Forlán’s record for most league goals in a calendar year. So far this season he has 17 to his name and what is more impressive is that Atleti lost their principal playmaker Diego Ribas in the summer as they failed to extend his loan deal. With clubs already sniffing around, Atleti will face a tough challenge to keep him.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
With all the off the field antics going on lately at the Santiago Bernabeu, it is to forget how great the Portuguese forward has been. Last April against Atlético de Madrid he scored the opening goal. Some were starting to wonder if Los Blancos had it in them to win the league after stumbling a little. In the 2nd half Falcao equalised and Real Madrid looked a little lost. Enter Ronaldo. A man who they claim never scores or shows up in important games, got Mourinho’s side their 2nd and 3rd goal. It easy not to like the player on a personal level but it is foolish not to rate him on the pitch. A magical player and joy to watch. One does feel a little sorry for him that he has to constantly live in Messi’s shadow.
Coach - Diego Simeone - Atlético
Mourinho won the league in spectacular fashion but has since fallen from grace. Pep was only in control for five months. UEFA and FIFA seem content to overlook the man they call El Cholo but it seems that clubs like Chelsea are keeping tabs on the former midfield general. What Simeone has achieved at Atlético in just a short period is nothing short of a miracle. Atlético were deemed the lovable losers, a terms fans hated. The Argentine took over a shipwreck of a club and installed pride, passion and feeling. Everyone at the club feels they have a part to play and Simeone has risen a phoenix from the flames. From a team that leaked goals he has formed one of the tightest defences in La Liga so far this season. Like the former Lazio and Inter player, his sides play a nonsense, direct style and are hard to break. With no funds to spend on players he has rejuvenated players such as Raul Garcia and Cristian Rodríguez and got them playing again. Wants to compete for league titles and may find that hard in Spain. England or Italy might be a better option.