You know who one of them is…
Welcome back to La Liga Team of the Season, where today we will name our three forwards who shone brighter than the chasing pack. There is clearly one very obvious choice here, so we start with him first…
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
I mean, of course he was going to be here. Was there ever a doubt?
Lionel Messi is the best player in La Liga. I think there is maybe one player that is in the same stratosphere as Messi playing in Spain currently. Messi, despite whatever nonsense you may have heard on social media, is still one of the three or four best players on the planet at the moment, and I believe that he is the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or for 2021 at this stage of the year. Despite their horrendous start to the season, Barcelona have their title fate in their hands. Should they beat Atlético Madrid later today and win their remaining three games after that, Barça would be champions of Spain. After how poor the beginning of the season was and how disastrous things could have potentially become, it is very possible that they will end the season with a league and cup double, and it would be largely due to the brilliance of Leo Messi.
The stats do speak for themselves, really. The league’s leading scorer by a healthy margin, the third most creative player and not far behind first, and someone who is literally responsible for a goal every game he plays in. Everything happens through him. He is so efficient, so precise, and so deadly with the ball at his feet. He is directly responsible for nearly half of Barcelona’s league goals this season, and I would not be surprised if he had an indirect role in many more of them. Without him, Barcelona would not be where they are.
This is not difficult. Messi is a God among mortals, and he is still so, so good. We better appreciate him while we still can.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
If Messi is the most valuable player in La Liga, Karim Benzema is second in that list. The only other player in La Liga that can belong in the same stratosphere of world talents as Messi, Karim Benzema has been probably the best player in the league not named Messi over the last two seasons. He has stepped up since Ronaldo’s departure, being the one that scores the goals or makes things happen when Real Madrid needs them the most.
Benzema is one of those players that needs no introduction. As a definitely unbiased journalistic source of information, not a very biased Lyon fan, I will keep screaming that the Frenchman is the most underrated player of his generation and an all-time great, and I will continue doing so until I am blue in the face. But, come on now. Watch him play and tell me he is not one of the best strikers on the planet at the moment. His movement as a forward is insane, he is ruthless in front of goal, able to score with either foot or with his head, and he is very comfortable on the ball and a very underrated passer. He likely will not catch Messi for top scorer, but potentially being the top scorer in the league not named Lionel Messi for the second consecutive year is nothing to scoff at. He has continued to be so important for Real Madrid since Ronaldo’s departure, and without him scoring so many important goals, Los Blancos may not be as close to another league title as they currently are. They for sure would not have won the league last season.
This will not be the first or last time I say this: Karim Benzema is one of the best players in the world. He has been one of the best players in the world for a while now, but specifically this season, he has reinforced his claim to being one of the best strikers on the planet. He is a simply phenomenal player, and his inclusion in this team should not be in doubt.
Gerard Moreno (Villarreal)
Now this entry might be controversial. Yes, this is not Luis Suárez. This is not a mistake.
I remember, a week or so ago, scrolling through my Twitter timeline and passing a tweet from a journalist that covers Spanish football. He posed the simple, but probably controversial, question of “is there a non-Messi attacking player in La Liga better than Gerard Moreno?” I thought that was silly. Benzema and Suárez both immediately sprang to mind, and I also felt that a case could be made for Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri or Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas.
I then started digging into the stats and actually watching Gerard Moreno and focusing on him playing for Villarreal. And I realized that this journalist may be right.
Now, I will still advocate for Benzema being the best non-Messi attacking player in the league, but you can make a very valid argument for Villarreal’s talismanic forward. Gerard is a phenomenally underrated player, someone who is so, so incredibly important for Villarreal’s success. He is literally responsible for about 50% of the Yellow Submarine’s league goals this season. He has that similar trait of being his team’s main guy, similar to Benzema and Messi, but almost to a greater degree. Even if Messi or Benzema is not there to save their teams, you can probably expect the talent on Barcelona or Real Madrid to help carry the team through. Even in the case of Suárez, I do not think he is as important to his team’s success as the aforementioned Marcos Llorente is, or even Jan Oblak or Stefan Savić. But without Gerard Moreno, Villarreal would probably be, at generous best, a mid table team. That does not feel like an exaggeration, and it might be a bit too generous.
Villarreal still have talented players. We talked about Pau Torres yesterday, and we still will talk about one more player from that team. Paco Alcácer and Samuel Chukwueze, who are not in this team but are still decent, are not players to be disrespected. But Moreno is just so important, he is the main guy for his team. He has over three times the amount of goals than the next highest Villarreal goalscorer, and he seemingly pops up at the most important times whenever they need a goal. He is the third-highest goalscorer in the league and has the third highest goal involvements in the league. He is so good, just so good. It is controversial, but very deserving.
And there you have it, our La Liga Team of the Season front three. It was a tough choice for one of them, but the other two were fairly obvious. Our full team looks something like this:
Agree with my picks? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments. Join us tomorrow for something much more difficult and less fairly obvious, the La Liga Team of the Season Honorable Mentions.
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