Brendy Boyle’s La Liga Season in Review 2019/20

THAT moment Photo by Oskar M. Bernal

It was a season where the best moment was the first moment. That Aritz Aduriz moment. His first touch of his final season.

Real Madrid confirmed themselves as the least worst team in Spain. They rarely convinced but, more often than not, they found a way. ‘Vencer sin convencer,’ as they say here.

They didn’t have Messi, but they had a team. There was little off the field drama and their unity was evident on the pitch as Zidane once again showed why he is currently the best manager in the world…for Real Madrid.

Straddled with indecision and incompetence at board level, on the pitch Barcelona looked tattered and tired, dependent on an weary core of past their prime generals.

Bartomeu and Co should be tried for crimes against football for allowing Lionel Messi to play out his final years in such shambolic conditions. As an institution they are a mess; their lack of direction has caught up with them and no quick fix will cure what´s ailing Barca. They need to spend big in key areas, but they are riddled with debt.

But, hey, with FFP there’s always a way…

Atlético Madrid will be very pleased with how the season has ended. Despite the giddy start, stability and a top 4 finish were always the principal objectives and, after toppling Liverpool, Diego Simeone is now two finals away from a return to Lisbon, the site of the club’s most crushing defeat in 2014.

The likes of Getafe and Real Sociedad built us up with their unique approach to the game of football only to let us down, both failing miserably to get back up to speed after the return to action post-COVID.

It hasn’t been a vintage season by any means. As the ‘Big 2’ faltered, it felt like a huge opportunity for an outside contender to take a shot at the title, but neither Atlético nor Sevilla could find the consistency to do so.

So here’s to another year; my best xi of the 2019/20 La Liga season:

Brendy Boyle’s Team of the Season

Courtois: Pulled off a string of stunning saves when Madrid needed him most. The Belgian had a huge second half of the season and got things right mentally. He looked 100% locked in during the title run-in.

Ramos: Still very much the same Sergio Ramos, liable to provide a few face-palm moments across a season, but he has been colossal in terms of leadership and time and time again popped up with vital goals from the penalty spot. A tremendous professional.

Felipe: The Brazilian came into the team as an instant leader in a team still reeling from the loss of Gabi, Godin, Juanfran and Felipe Luis. He has been rock solid and has relished the role as Atleti´s rock at the back. Atlético Madrid’s signing of the season.

Jesús Navas: 34 and still going strong. Finishing top 4 with a new manager and a new team is a successful season for Sevilla and Navas has been crucial to this success with his unrelenting energy.

Pervis Estupiñán flying down the wing Photo Diario AS

Pervis Estupiñan: There haven’t been too many shining stars at left back this season in La Liga but the Ecuadorian has been a driving force for the Navarra outfit. It´s unlikely the 22-year-old will be in Pamplona next season but he has played a key role in Osasuna’s survival bid.

Casemiro: The foundation upon which everything at Real Madrid is built. Still criminally underrated as a footballer and for how he reads the game. Popped up at crucial times in attack at various stages this season. Madrid’s second captain.

Martin Odegaard: The most dynamic midfielder in La Liga this season. His energy, movement, awareness and ‘verticality’ helped turn Real Sociedad from a nice team into a winning team. At 21, he still has plenty of room to grow.

Santi Cazorla: In a season where real, world-class quality was in short supply in Spain, we had Santi. 11 goals and 9 assists is not shabby for a 35 year old who only a few years ago was happy to be able to walk properly!

Cazorla has given Villarreal much needed structure, direction and composure in midfield. It’s a shame he won’t get the farewell he deserves but he will enjoy a fat paycheck in Qatar. His class will be missed.

Lucas Ocampos Photo EFE

Lucas Ocampos: My signing of the season. Without Ocampos, Sevilla would have struggled for a Europa League place. In the absence of reliable strikers, the Argentinian gave Lopetegui’s side grit and real incisiveness in attack. Another Monchi gem.

Benzema: The class and quality of forever, the Frenchman showed why he has been able to survive at the most demanding club in world football for over a decade. Such adaptability requires a tremendous football intelligence and his positional sense has enabled Madrid’s younger players to flourish.

Messi: At this point of his career, with this support cast full of misfits it finally feels fair (well almost) to judge Messi alongside his peers in La Liga. And yes he’s still the best. With 25 goals and 20 assists he has beaten Telmo Zarra’s record of six Pichichis. Needs a vastly improved support cast next season.

Honourable mentions: Rui Silva (Granada) Marc Cucurella (Getafe), Chimy Ávila (Osasuna), Oscar Rodríguez (Leganés), Enis Bardhi (Levante), Nabil Fekir (Real Betis), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Gerard Moreno, Raúl Albiol (Villarreal), Salva Sevilla (Mallorca), Raúl Garcia, Iker Muniain, Yeray (Athletic Club), Orellana (Eibar).

The Memorable Moment

Don Joaquín 38 years young Photo Getty

Remember when Joaquín became the oldest player in La Liga history to score a hat trick? It only took him 20 mins v Athletic Club. Despite another disappointing season at the Benito Villamarín, the Betis captain showed us that 38 is the new 28. It was one of the few moments of glory for Joaquín this campaign, but it was special.

The Entertainers

Loco Levante Photo by Getty

There was plenty of fun to be had following the teams in the Valencia region this season. With 59 goals for and 49 against, Villarreal were a weekly treat for the neutrals.

With the likes of Gerard Moreno, Samu Chukwueze, Toko Ekambi in attack, the Yellow Submarine blended lightning counter attack pace with real quality, intricate football with Santi Cazorla dictating play from deeper positions. They finished the season strongly and can be very pleased with their efforts.

Ah Levante, good old Levante. The fact that Paco López’s side beat both champions Real Madrid and Barcelona and lost to Espanyol and Mallorca (both relegated) just shows how peculiar a team they are. Never mind, they have been another delight for us neutrals who never quite knew what to expect from one week to the next. La Liga is all the better for loco teams like Levante.

The Losers

Another tough campaign for Iago Aspas and Celta Vigo Photo Marca

Celta Vigo’s ploy of bringing native sons back to their roots didn’t work. Despite impressive draws at the Santiago Bernabéu and Wanda Metropolitano, and wins at both at Real Sociedad and Villarreal, Celta were forced to fight for their lives until the final day.

It is a team that is still soft, both physically and mentally in midfield, and their failure to really impose themselves on supposedly inferior teams has been their Achilles heal.

They have diced with danger the previous two seasons. Next year they mightn’t get so lucky.

Honourable mentions: Valencia and Real Betis, whose travails off the field have been well documented. Both teams have really solid squads with some tremendous talents, but neither felt institutionally stable at any point this season. At this level it shows.

The Suprise Package

Granada have come back stronger than ever. Photo EFE Granada

A European football place, one goal away from a Copa del Rey final, it’s been a damn fine season for newly-promoted Granada. They have made a big effort to get their local community on board and it has paid off. They are a very different team to what we have seen in recent years. Diego Martínez manager of the year?

The Tweet of the Season

This pretty much summed up football in 2020 in general.

Final thoughts

Football with the fans: everything Photo EFE

Overall, La Liga did fantastic job with their management of the return. They got player safety and logistics right; their TV experiment with artificial atmospheres worked, and Javier Tebas will be delighted with how the operation has turned out.

A long way from normality

However, it still feels like we are well away from playing football with fans again. Spain has witnessed a number of COVID-19 outbreaks and recent weeks and this number will surely grow given the increased movement that summer holidays will bring.

I’m of the opinion that the league needs to wait until the time is right for the entire country, and that includes the Canary and Balearic Islands. A league is based on a level playing field and integrity. If one team cannot open its stadium to fans due to infections in the area, then nobody can.

Football without the fans…

It’s been especially weird watching games at San Mamés and El Sadar without the fans who are such an integral part of how their teams play: the energy, the aggression, the cheers for a corner kick or a shuddering tackle. Without their people these clubs are not the same. So let’s hope we can get fans through the turnstiles as soon as possible, but only when it’s safe to do so. For everyone.

Last of the Summer Wine

It’s been a season where the golden oldies have lead the way but, alas, the sun has begun to set. Santi Cazorla and Ever Banega are off to the Middle East to bump up their pension funds. Raúl Garcia and Jesus Navas continue to defy the years, while Aritz Aduriz’s body couldn’t give any more.

It’s a shame that those who are departing won’t get to say farewell to their people but that’s currently the way in all walks of life at the moment sadly. They have been great servants to Spanish football and each helped make La Liga better, in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Monkey

Diego Simeone’s trusted assistant, Mono Burgos, departs Atlético Madrid. He has been a huge part of the club’s success since arriving in 2011 and will be sorely lost by both Cholo and the Atletico fans. I think we all wish him well in management.

Let the referees referee

I was under the illusion that VAR would only come into play in the event of gross injustice: be it for mistaken identity, violence behind the back of the referee etc. Now we have decisions being ratified or rectified based on slow motion replays and stilled images. So what if referees make mistakes? Complaining about referees is what we football fans do best! Give the power back to the refs and get on with the game.

Hasta pronto Lega

They fought until the final bell when they should have been six feet under six weeks earlier. Leganés have been exemplary on and off the pitch during their time in the Primera.

They are a family club and the connection they have built with the local community has been an example to all. They have welcomed new followers and new reporters with open arms, they have treated visiting teams and fans with respect, and even when everything went against them, they maintained their class throughout and showed incredible heart.

The Pepineros have made La Liga a more fun place and they will be missed.

Gracias Leganés.

Until next season folks, stay safe and keep well. Adiós!

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