Though it feels like we were writing those posts yesterday, in La Liga, we’ve already just about reached the halfway point – technically it’s not until Matchday 19 concludes on Jan. 5 – but why wait?
Note: The player, or players, who won the “One-Third of Season Award” in each category are listed in parentheses (and don’t worry, we’re not going to repeat the winner in every category).
LA LIGA MVP: Lionel Messi (Messi)
This is one award it would just be impossible to argue against. Everything we said in November – and every time we’ve ever discussed him – is still true of Lionel Messi. Interestingly enough, the Argentine has gone three entire games in a row without scoring. The fact that seems like such an eternity tells you what a player Messi is.
Let’s also talk about where Messi is on the La Liga goal-scorers list: first, with 12. That’s nothing new, but the player he’s tied with, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, has played 404 (!) more minutes. Messi and Benzema have a comfortable lead over the rest of the pack, as Luis Suárez (9 goals) is second.
Honorable mention: Benzema
Speaking of Benzema, he deserves much more credit than he gets. In addition to his 12 goals, the Frenchman is among five players tied for second in the league with five assists. With minimal help from RM’s other forwards, Benzema is nevertheless well on his way to another 20-goal season.
LA LIGA MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Fede Valverde, Real Madrid (Martin Odegaard, Real Sociedad; Gerard Moreno, Villarreal)
If we’d have asked you before the season who had the better midfield between Spain’s two best teams, you’d have said Barcelona, I think. But although Frenkie de Jong’s been solid, the midfield has been the Catalans’ weakness, with Ernesto Valverde apparently still undecided on who he should start there.
RM was the clear winner of the battle in that area of the field on Wednesday, especially in the first half. Fede Valverde, a 21-year-old Uruguayan, was a big reason why. He didn’t look like one of the youngest players on the field for a second, as he drew praise rom the beIN Sports crew throughout the match. He’s far from the best-known player at Manager Zinedine Zidane’s disposal, but after playing heavy minutes in each of his team’s last three domestic matches, he looks like a fixture in the midfield.
LA LIGA BEST NEWCOMER: Lucas Ocampos, Sevilla (João Félix, Atlético Madrid; Kieran Trippier, Atleti)
It’s OK to admit you didn’t think much of Sevilla back in July. Before the season, they were +250 to finish top-4 and +15,000 to win La Liga. But here they are after 17 games, in third place, just five behind leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid. They’re currently two points ahead of Atlético Madrid and four points in front of Valencia, a pair of teams that oddsmakers were much higher on before the season.
One of the keys to their success, midfielder Lucas Ocampos, is the latest great example of what Sporting Director Monchi and this team are about. How much did you hear about the 25-year-old Argentine when Sevilla signed him from Ligue 1 side Marseille this summer? That move was not on my radar, either, but it’s paid dividends. With five goals and an assist, he’s been a key piece of his team’s balanced attack. Monchi’s list of success stories just continues to grow.
LA LIGA BEST COACH: Zidane (Diego Martínez, Granada)
Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying as recently as the beginning of November. And as I’ve alluded to in what feels like every other sentence I’ve written this week, Barcelona-Real Madrid on Wednesday probably swayed my thoughts on this league way more than it should have.
But bear with me here: A team in an incredible amount of disarray late this summer and early this season is on a roll, even if its last two results have been draws. Zidane’s undermanned club hung with a near-full-strength Barcelona at Camp Nou this week, pushed PSG around for most of that match-up on November 26 and will only get better when Eden Hazard and Co. get healthy.
We’ve been quick to skewer Zidane and Los Blancos when they’ve stumbled, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show them love when they play like they have in recent weeks. And who would have thought this team would allow just 12 goals through its first 17 games? Hats off to Zidane for what’s been an impressive bounce-back season in several ways, at least to this point.
BEST EXEC TEAM: Getafe (Sevilla)
Talk about an under off-the-radar franchise following a quiet summer with an impressive start to the season. Getafe nearly finished top-four a year ago. Most of us assumed that would be the last we heard from them for a while. Before the season, oddsmakers priced them at +50,000 to win the league, and they were +1,600 to finish top-4.
If the season ended today, those who took that risk would be lining their pockets. Who cares if this team fades down the stretch? The work it’s done to be this close to the top of the table despite one of the league’s smallest budgets deserves all the credit in the world. Because I still may or may not actually know any of their players, I’m attributing a great deal of Getafe’s success to their front office.
Don’t miss their Europa League round of 32 – yes, I’m hyping a Europa League round of 32 match-up! — battle with Ajax. Go ahead and circle February 20 (Leg 1) and February 27 (Leg 2) on your calendars now and thank me (or curse me out, as Getafe turns every game into a street fight) in a couple months.