Slightly easier to choose than the defense…
Welcome back to the La Liga Team of the Season. In this part, we will be selecting our midfield three, which will probably be less controversial than the defense. It will also be a largely “big team” affair, unlike the defense featuring significant contribution from players outside of the “big three” title challengers.
Here’s who I have gone with:
Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid)
The hero of Anfield. The transformed player. Marcos Llorente has undoubtedly been the best midfielder in La Liga this season, and if Atlético Madrid win La Liga, the boyhood Real Madrid fan Llorente will be a large reason for their success.
Llorente was famously a defensive midfielder when he came through at Real Madrid, and when he made his move across the capital to Atléti, Diego Simeone saw him as the ideal box-to-box attacking midfielder. He changed him from his defensive midfield position and playing him in an attacking role, almost as a center forward or attacking winger at times. He has repaid this faith at a rate I do not think anyone saw coming. A season removed from his heroics against Liverpool, Llorente has put together an incredible attacking season, amassing more goals and assists than any other midfielder in the league. In a team with quite a bit of star talent, Llorente has arguably been one of Atlético Madrid’s most important players and easily their most important attacking player, linking midfield and attack together with his strong passing ability and seemingly inexhaustible energy levels. I would go as far as saying that without him, Atléti are likely not league title contenders, or at least not title contenders for as long as they have been.
Llorente’s transformation from decent defensive midfielder to arguably world-class box to box midfielder has been wild to see, and the Spaniard looks to be a key player for Diego Simeone’s team for years to come. With goal and assist numbers like these, he is a lock for this team of the season, one of the few locks that are actually in this team.
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
Here is another fairly easy choice. Toni Kroos has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance season, being a crucial player in the Real Madrid midfield and helping get that team from a difficult start into a title race.
We all know who Toni Kroos is at this point, his talents are not foreign to us. It all centers around his passing, and the stats reflect how good he has been as a passer this season. While those stats do also count the set pieces and corners Kroos has taken, they still reflect how important the German is when it comes to chance creation for this Real Madrid team. His limitations are clear, with his lack of serious pace stopping him from being the box-to-box demon that Llorente is, but his passing ability allows him to be the one that makes everything run for Real Madrid.
This was an incredibly tough choice between him and Luka Modrić. The Croat did not make this team, but he also had a solid season. Both Kroos and Modrić have been important for Real Madrid this season, crucial in their attempts to win yet another league title. Kroos makes it over Modrić, however, because his passing ability is one of the few truly effective attacking outlets for a Real Madrid team that has often struggled to score goals. Real Madrid might have been fine without Kroos having a great season, but him being good enough to feature in this team has greatly helped Zidane’s team this season.
Casemiro (Real Madrid)
This final midfield position is very difficult to choose. There were at least three or four players that could have made it into this position, but Casemiro is my choice. He has been one of the most underrated players in the world and arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world over the last few seasons, and this season is no different. He has even added a few more dynamics to his game this season.
Casemiro has always been an incredibly solid defensive player. Him sitting in front of the back four is what gives Kroos and Modrić the time and freedom to run the midfield and contribute to the attack. He is a fearless defensive player, but also one that plays with an incredibly high defensive intelligence, especially as his physical skills begin to devolve with age. He is usually among the leaders in the league in tackles and interceptions, and this season is no different. He may have been slacking a bit in both of these stats relative to the last two years, but he is still among the league leaders in several defensive statistical categories this season. He holds the midfield together, and it is his defensive solidity and fearlessness that makes Real Madrid such a difficult team to beat.
But he has also added an offensive facet to his game. With six goals this season, he is one of the highest scoring midfielders in La Liga this season. He is also Real Madrid’s second highest goalscorer of the season, very far behind Karim Benzema for obvious reasons. While a defensive midfielder being Real Madrid’s second best scorer this season is probably quite worrying and shows what Real Madrid need to fix, it shows just how important Casemiro has made himself in this team. Benzema and Sergio Ramos were seemingly the only two players that could get a goal when Los Blancos desperately needed to, and with Ramos being injured for most of the season, Casemiro has stepped into that reliable goalscorer role when Real Madrid needed him the most. Not only is he among the best defensive midfielders in the world, he has become one of the most important players in Zidane’s team.
And there you have it, our La Liga Team of the Season midfield three. Agree with my picks? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments.
Come back tomorrow to see our three forwards. You likely know who one of them is already, but the other two might be a surprise.
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