Earlier this week, High Press Soccer issued our Premier League One-Third of Season Awards. It’s an Americanized look at the Most Valuable Player, top manager, top newcomer, and most improved in Europe’s biggest domestic leagues.
Today, we shift our focus to La Liga. Chops and Tyler Everett weigh in. Here we go.
La Liga MVP
Tyler: Not a terribly difficult choice here. Lionel Messi remains the best player on the planet. He is also easily the most impactful. The difference between the version of Barcelona with Messi in the line-up and the one without him is staggering, as the first two months of the season reminded us.
Messi missed several games early this season, but scored nine goals in seven games from October 6 through November 9. The international break has been the only thing capable of preventing him from scoring, so anyone waiting for the 32-year-old’s play to drop off is going need to show some serious patience – or, better yet, find something else to hope for.
This team, however, remains too inconsistent for a Champions League trophy to seem likely. Can Messi either drag them to one anyway, or will the rest of the squad come together in time to erase the memories of the last two UCL disasters?
Chops: Lionel Messi is 32. He’s on pace for…the exact same season he had last year…which was historically great. In 7 total domestic appearances (6 starts), Messi has 8 goals and 4 assists. When he’s in the line-up, Barcelona can’t lose. When he’s not, Barcelona can’t win. He’s like Mike Trout, if Mike Trout actually helped his team win.
La Liga Most Improved Player
Tyler: At the age of just 20, Real Sociedad’s Martin Odegaard (a Real Madrid loanee) has arguably been the best player outside of Spain’s big three clubs. He already has two goals and three assists and is leading the way for a team that is surprisingly right in the mix at the top of the table – his club is just one point behind third-place Atleti. For a reminder of how difficult it is to do what he’s doing — staying on the pitch and consistently playing at a high level — look at how much the top young transfers into Spain this summer (Luka Jovic and João Félix, though Félix was playing great before his injury) have struggled to consistently make an impact.
Chops: Better late than never. At 27, Villareal’s Gerard Moreno is having by far his best season. Last season, he tallied 8 goals and 1 assist in 25 total league appearances. He’s got 8 and 2 in just 12 games this season. While Villareal are 11th in points, they’re actually 3rd in xPTS. If their luck starts evening out, you’ll hear much more about Moreno.
La Liga Best Newcomer
Tyler: Though he’s currently out of commission with an ankle injury, João Félix has absolutely lived up to the hype. He was giving his team the offensive boost it so sorely needed before he sprained his ankle against Valencia on October 19. It was fair to question whether we’d see the highlight-reel stuff we saw from Felix in Portugal early in his Atleti tenure, but he showed right away that he was more than ready for both La Liga and the Champions League. Despite missing some time, Félix has already scored three goals (two in Spain, one in the UCL) and added an assist. Here’s to hoping he’s back soon, and that Félix + an in-form Álvaro Morata = an Atleti with enough offense to justify our high hopes for them back in August.
Chops: I’ve got to give this one to Félix’s teammate, Kieran Trippier. The Englishman’s move from Tottenham to Atleti was surprising at the time. It looks like a masterstroke today. His work offensively, particularly crossing, will prove vital as the year goes on. And his defensive contributions have been Atleti-esque since arriving.
La Liga Coach
Tyler: Another no-brainer: despite losses in their last two games, Diego Martínez and Granada are punching way above their weight. This team was in Spain’s second tier a year ago, but instead of scrapping to avoid relegation, they’re still near the top of the table after 13 games. Granada’s wins include a 2-0 victory over Barcelona. Regardless of what they do the rest of the way, their early-season performance makes Martinez one of the most impressive managers in Europe to this point.
Chops: It seems like there’s more anti-coach of the year (Zidane, Valverde) than coach of the year candidates. But it’s hard to argue with Tyler on this one, especially since Diego Simeone hasn’t had Atleti where we were hoping. Diego Martínez deserves a ton of credit for Granada’s early season performance. It’s not fluky either. Granada are 8th in the table and 11th in xPTs.
La Liga Executive Team
Tyler: The two teams with the busiest offseasons, Atleti and RM, have been less than stellar by their standards, though Los Blancos seem like they might be on the right track. Let’s go with Sevilla and well-regarded Sporting Director Monchi, whose return to the club in March has Sevilla in contention for a Champions League spot. This team didn’t add any household names this summer, but the slew of lower-profile signings (including Chicharito) they did make have played well. Sevilla is tied with Atlético Madrid for third in La Liga with 24 points and is also playing well, to put it lightly, in the Europa League. Through four group play games in the UEL’s Group A, this team is not only undefeated, but has won its games by a combined score of 12-2 (!).
Chops: As tempting as it is to give it to Barcelona’s front office for snookering Bayern Munich in taking Philippe Coutinho off their hands, I agree with Tyler here. Sevilla is positioning themselves for sustained success.
Where to Bet La Liga in US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.