We’re just past the halfway mark for the 2020-21 La Liga season. Here’s a look at some awards for the season to date.
MVP: Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Honorable Mention: Luis Suárez, Atlético Madrid
The Argentine got off to a slow start to the season, at least by his insane standards. Right now, though, there’s no argument against Messi being the best player in the league. In his last five games in La Liga, he has six goals and two assists, as he appears likely to finish the year with another haul of 20-plus goals. His assists — he has tallied just two this year — are way down, especially after he piled up 21 a year ago. Still, he remains by far the best overall player in La Liga, if not the world, at the age of 33.
With 34 points through 18 games, and a record of 10-4-4, Barcelona is looking at another season without a league title as Atleti pulls away from the pack (with 44 points through 17 games, they’re now -250 to win the league).
But after all the turmoil from last January (remember Quique Setien?) through the brief but hectic summer this team endured, the Catalans are finally in good form, at least at the moment. They’ve won 4 of 5 in La Liga, thanks in no small part to Messi’s heroics – we won’t mention last weekend’s Supercopa final loss to Athletic Club – and are entering a stretch of games they should win against Elche, Athletic Club, Real Betis and Alavés. With Messi rolling, a team that would be in who knows how much trouble without him is still in the mix in La Liga – for now – and the Champions League.
Honorable Mention: The Uruguayan is tied with Messi with 11 goals on the season, and also has two assists in just over 1,000 minutes played. He’s given Atleti a massive boost, and his .98 goals per 90 minutes means he’d be taking home this prestigious award if it weren’t for Messi. Whether he can stay healthy, and productive, the rest of the season will be one of the most interesting storylines in La Liga.
Most Improved: Youssef En-Nesyri, Sevilla
Honorable Mention: Ansu Fati, Barcelona
Along with Suárez, the biggest surprise among La Liga’s top five goal scorers has to be the 23-year-old Moroccan. This time a year ago, he was just joining Sevilla from Leganés, which ended up being relegated at the end of the ’19-20 season. He was solid in his first few months with Sevilla, notching four goals in seven starts (18 matches played).
But it’s fair to say no one saw this coming: he’s scored nine goals, and his team still has 20 games to go this year. If you’d have told Sevilla fans before the season that he’d score that many for the season, they would have gladly taken it. His total of nine goals is even more impressive considering none have come via PKs. And he’s done it all on a team without many complementary scorers, as no other Sevilla player has more than three this season.
He’s been mostly under the radar, and I’ll admit I was shocked to see had nine goals on the season. But with five goals in his last five games – including a hat trick in a 3-2 win over Real Sociedad on January 9 — En-Nesyri is now a hot commodity. West Ham made a push for him this week that already appears to have fallen through, but don’t expect that to be the last team to contact Sevilla with interest in him.
Honorable Mention: Fati was well on his way to awards much bigger than this one, but unfortunately suffered a knee injury on November 7. His club is hoping he’ll be back in action some time in March, which would provide a huge lift. With four goals in six starts to the season, the 18-year-old looked like one of the brightest young stars in the game. Fingers crossed he doesn’t miss a beat once he returns!
Best Newcomer: Pedri, Barcelona
Honorable Mention: Sergiño Dest, Barcelona (The USMNT right back has played a bigger role than expected, and has held up well).
Move over, Fati? … The feeling you get reading the Spanish press over the last six weeks or so is that Fati has been overtaken for the title of most promising Barcelona teen, as Pedri has absolutely blown up. Cold take: The truth is that the sky’s the limit for both these guys, and the chance to watch them together can’t get here soon enough.
Despite underwhelming stats, Pedri’s played so well in his 12 starts that his transfer value, per Transfermarkt, has reached $55M – that figure was less than $8M as recently as June 30, 2020!! It would be an understatement to call this guy, who is also just 18, a revelation for Barcelona. Fati showed enough flashes last season that his early-season success wasn’t a total shock, but Pedri has totally come out of nowhere to emerge as one of his team’s best players.
Few thought anything of it when Barcelona acquired the then-16-year-old back in the summer of ’19 – the details of what the club paid then, and what it could owe going forward, are detailed here by Marca – but it now looks like one of the best bargain signings in recent memory.
Say what you will about Ronald Koeman, but he’s given a ton of minutes to several (very) young players including Fati, Pedri, Dest and Ronald Araujo, and the returns have been extremely encouraging.
Best Coach: Diego Simeone, Atlético Madrid
Honorable (Premature) Mention: Marcelino, Athletic Club (His tenure is just a few games old, but he’s already beaten both Barcelona and Real Madrid and raised the Supercopa trophy).
This might be the biggest no-brainer of them all. His team was -1,100 to win the league before the season, but has been by far the best, most consistent squad in Spain. Atleti (14-2-1) has lost just once all year, to Real Madrid, and is 7 points ahead of RM and 10 points ahead of Barcelona, with a game in hand.
A defense that has long been the class of Spain somehow improved this year – they’ve allowed seven goals in 17 games – and the offense is producing just shy of two goals per game. It’s not just the record, but also the goal differential of +26, that has Simeone’s team looking like a lock to win La Liga for the first time since ’13-14.