Graham Hunter looks behind on a best of a 2016-17 La Liga debate in Spain and offers adult a glance of what could occur in 2017-18.
That a Spanish pretension was won by a buccaneering, aggressive and stirring group is a pleasing thing to announce. Real Madrid aren’t simply La Liga champions, they are identifiable explanation that if there is any response to a possession-based football which, around Barcelona, has dominated Spain’s tip moody for roughly a decade, afterwards it’s this.
Not to park a bus, suppress and play sterile, defensive “hope we measure a usually goal” football. But to attack. To pointer or rise expanded footballers and adopt a “we’ll measure one some-more than you” philosophy. The presentation of Zinedine Zidane as an inspirational man-manager has truly rejuvenated a bar he loves.
Barcelona sojourn engaging though inconsistent. This season, a disproportion between a dual squads was some-more than a three-point opening in a joining table. The deposed champions were some-more fragile, reduction arguable and, frankly, reduction fun to watch than Los Blancos.
Back when Pep Guardiola took over in 2008 and kickstarted a mastery of domestic football that Barca have enjoyed for a final 9 years, he gave a debate to his players. He warned that he could pardon errors — a fluffed penalty; a unnoticed pass — given he accepted that even world-class footballers are men, not machines. But he warned that being outworked, not giving your best on a day-to-day basement (not usually during weekends), was unforgiveable.
And Barcelona are second best this deteriorate because, on occasion, they could be out-worked and out-competed — they could be run off their feet and didn’t have a passing, possession and dire skills to quarrel that threat.
And what of Atletico? There was a time, not so prolonged ago, when observant goodbye to a muscular, bouncing, loud Vicente Calderon track with a win over Real Madrid, guaranteed Champions League football, and a Champions League semifinal place would have been regarded as manna from heaven. But that is no longer a case. The standards are too high for this to be considered, generally by manager Diego Simeone, as some-more than a ‘could do better’ 6/10 lapse after finishing 15 points off tip spot.
That’s not a criticism, simply a approval that they should have reinforced executive midfield and they indispensable some-more goals. That Fernando Torres sent a Calderon off into a night with a integrate of goals was moral though there will be altogether disappointment.
Elsewhere, Sevilla, Celta, Alaves, Villarreal, Las Palmas undisguised entertained us — and a value of that contingency not be forgotten. At a beating, pulsing heart of football are games like Alaves winning during a Camp Nou; Sevilla 1-0 Atletico; Las Palmas scarcely winning though afterwards sketch 3-3 during a Santiago Bernabeu; Villarreal demolishing Valencia during a Mestalla.
By a latter partial of a deteriorate Leganes played with resplendence and rite and outrageous confidence. But their reserve due a lot to a haplessness of a relegated contingent — Granada (and please, Tony Adams, make your grant to Spanish football opposite to what we’ve seen so far), Osasuna and Sporting Gijon.
Finally, it’s been a good year for a Basque sides. Given a budgets and patrol problems with that Eibar and Alaves have had to cope, they have finished a smashing job. Athletic simply ticked over and will maybe now remove their critical and high-achieving coach, Ernesto Valverde, to Barcelona subsequent Monday. Real Sociedad, latterly, showed that they were means of beautiful, issuing and intelligent football. They were a pleasure to watch and a integrate of their immature players are display that not usually are they here to stay though they will change matters too.
The day that they kick Barcelona during their possess diversion was a thing of fun to see — passing, possession, dire — though this is where we started. Madrid found that their approach is best. Wave after call of attacks, regulating full-backs as wingers and a “we’re not beaten until a sauce room is dull and a track lights incited off” attitude. That’ll do for me.
There’s an sea of candidates. Some would automatically float towards Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, while a box for Toni Kroos is distant too small heard. Perhaps you’d disagree that 22-year-old midfielder Marcos Llorente (on loan during Alaves from Real Madrid) has been such a prodigy that he needs recognising, or unsung heroes like Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, or a under-pressure though consistently conspicuous Keylor Navas during Madrid consequence a gong.
However there’s a transparent leader for me: Isco. He creates football fun, though he’s some-more than tricks and flicks. He’s a engine-oil that creates a Ferrari purr; a workman who schooled a art of tough graft. He’s also been mentally means to understanding with being called on for tools of games, bursts of appearances in a row, and afterwards to accept being left on a bench.
Goals, match-changing impacts, assists, tackles, work, and class. Pure class.
It was upsetting to see Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo press in a heap, again, and leave a margin opposite Real Madrid with his knee in pieces. When it happened, after 24 matches, Villarreal had conceded fewer goals than any other group in a tip league. In a remaining 14 though Asenjo they conceded scarcely a same volume again.
In all odds that damage cost a Yellow Submarine a possibility of a Champions League place (they missed out by 6 points). But in tellurian terms it was most some-more desperate. A truly glorious screw has had his career truncated by consistent debilitating knee problems.
This season, while undergoing a tiresome reconstruction routine he certified that anything over being means to walk, play with his kids and sojourn active into his aged age would be a bonus. A male not usually fearful for his career though his mobility.
Anyone who doesn’t broadcast “Alaves” is a liar. The bar were promoted, sacked a coach, allocated Mauricio Pellegrino and brought in 16 new players during high speed. Then proceeded to infer that they were some-more than an equal for a determined clubs.
That they stayed adult competence not be an undisguised startle — generally when we cruise how miserably Granada and Osasuna have played — though to soar adult a table, to win during a Camp Nou and strech a Copa del Rey final have been implausible achievements.
Spain will always furnish shining possibilities for this endowment though there’s one stand-out candidate. That we were vacant by a Messi goal, after some-more than a decade of his remarkable, inclusive scoring, tells we something.
For him to measure in a Clasico, with seconds remaining, during a time when a La Liga pretension competition indispensable to be kept alive, with Madrid carrying usually equalised, was pure, freezer-chilled adrenalin. The shirt celebration, a incredulity, a unassailable spirit, all usually topping on a cake.
There’s a thesis here. Year after year, El Clasico, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, provides a best games anywhere on a planet. However this year was doubly special.
Barcelona scoring 3 times in Madrid, though a dangling Neymar when they couldn’t measure once during home or divided to Malaga, was a spectacle.
James Rodriquez regulating all his street-smarts to pierce brilliantly and finish splendidly to leave a diversion tied with 4 mins left; Sergio Ramos’ babyish red card; Marcelo’s bend into Messi’s teeth; Messi holding his ire out on a antithesis counterclaim not once though twice — finishing with a last-second winner. An implausible roller-coaster ride.
Prediction for subsequent season
“Catch us if we can” will be Madrid’s motto. As prolonged as Zidane can keep a courtesy to detail, group spirit and power somewhere nearby as high as it has been given he took over in Jan final year, afterwards Madrid will start as clever favourites to repeat their pretension win. Not given they won this year, though given they have a fantastic group ethic and always quarrel until a final whistle.
When Barcelona announce their new manager on May 29, a pursuit of determining either to pierce serve divided from a Pep Guardiola-Johan Cruyff beliefs or to revive mislaid values will be interesting, though also potentially distracting.
Atletico Madrid during a new stadium; Valencia coached by a proven hard-nosed achiever; Levante behind where they belong; Sevilla though Monchi — it will be a deteriorate of new beginnings.
Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of “Barca: The Making of a Greatest Team in a World.” Twitter: @BumperGraham.