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La Liga season review: the best and worst of the 2019/20

A review of the best, most surprising, most entertaining and most disappointing teams and player in the 2019/20 La Liga season

Alexandre Patanian

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Header Image by Óscar J. Barroso / Zuma via Imago

As the 2019/20 La Liga has come to an end, it is time to review the season of for many the best league in the world.


And in the end, the race ends, the marathon reaches its finish line and the curtains close easily. People are crying, for different reasons, but mainly as they understand an era comes to an end. After 38 matchdays in La Liga, the final curtains were closed in style and left people wanting craving more action, even though for some the agony of playing every three days will finalise and make them rest for a few weeks.

The best league in the world for many fans closed yesterday with emphatic wins, a close relegation battle and a surprising race for Europe. It is true; the title was sealed on the penultimate matchday, but the title race was exciting and the two clubs in it, Barcelona and Real Madrid, made the league enjoyable enough to keep both sets of fans watching the two clubs religiously.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a La Liga season without controversy. Games like the Mallorca vs Celta de Vigo or the Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid have given the spectators a lot to worry about concerning VAR in its second year in Spain. But all in all, La Liga proposed its usual superb football with the most tactically astute coaches and flamboyant players.

A league where Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Martínez or Julen Lopetegui are coaching will always be the league where the football is best, even when José Bordalas’ brand of football isn’t quite as popular as the others’. Also, a competition in which Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Oyarzabal are balling out every weekend will always be touted as the best in the business, especially when its clubs are doing a job in Europe.

Talking of Europe, this year’s race was sensational, but after the COVID–19 outbreak, some teams lost pace in the race and fell off. So, in a deep review of this La Liga season, the following part will be a summary of the best and the worst of the 2019/20.

The best teams in the league

Many clubs have a fantastic history in the league. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Club are the three clubs that haven’t tasted the Second Division yet. At the same time, Real Sociedad’s or Valencia’s golden ages were highlights of the league’s rich history.
The best teams in the league, respective of their alleged quality proposed spectacle and may have surprised many.

Of course, there are two giants in Barça and Real Madrid. They dominated the league and proposed pleasing football. Still, Atlético de Madrid‘s consistency along with Diego Martínez’s Granada, Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad and Javi Calleja’s Villarreal played with so much soul it was really appealing.

Thibaut Courtois Sergio Ramos Casemiro Real Madrid 2019/20 La Liga review

Real Madrid based their improvement this course around a more rational defence | Photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP via Getty Images

Further down the table, newly-promoted Osasuna played a structured brand of football under Jogoba Arrasate and took points off Barça twice since the 2002/03 season. Los Rojillos veritably were an entertaining team to watch. Levante’s defence let the team down, but the attack was enough to win games against Barça and Madrid in the same season.

For Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla, it was a superb season that could have gone way better if they kept it together at the end. Finally, a little mention to Javier Aguirre’s Leganés, who were the 12th-best team based on form after the Mexican set foot at Butarque. They were dead last when he found them, with only 5 points might we add. But, while they couldn’t escape relegation, they fought until the last second against all odds, circumstances and adversity.

The most pleasing teams

A similar section to the last, but this one focuses more on the football displayed than the results. For example, Barcelona and Real Madrid were nowhere near the most pleasing sides in the league, and the merengues often won points by the skin of their teeth, especially in the end, while Barça struggled in multiple games.

In terms of pleasing teams, Real Sociedad have to be up there as they spent the whole season trying to play some incredible football and managed to score some sublime goals. Sevilla’s way of playing was lovely for the viewers’ eyes, and the performances of Lucas Ocampos, Jules Koundé or Diego Carlos were mind-blowing. Julen Lopetegui merits a lot of credit for his team’s football.

Adnan Januzaj Mikel Oyarzabal Real Sociedad 2019/20 La Liga review

Real Sociedad generally were a joy to watch for fans | Photo by Juan Herrero via Imago

Rubi’s Betis had potential, and they had some stellar displays, but their finishing let them down, and it looked like the team repeated the mistakes they made under Quique Setién. Osasuna were an energetic and committed side, but their defence was insane and made everyone fall in love with them as they managed to sting many giants along the way.

Post-lockdown Celta de Vigo was also another pleasing team under Óscar García. They got what they wanted by staying up, but they should learn to be more consistent next year if they are going to taste Europe again next term.

Most disappointing teams

Of course, La Liga doesn’t present attractive football and expected results every time, and some teams have underperformed massively. One of the biggest underperformers were Valencia. The Valencians’ term turned to shreds as the board sacked coach Marcelino in September which could be seen as the watershed of the season. As Albert Celades failed to lift a shocked team, his efforts came in vain as the football and the results were too underwhelming for Peter Lim’s liking.

Albert Celades Valencia 2019/20 La Liga review

Albert Celades could by no means steady the ship at Mestalla | Photo by Pau Barrena / AFP via Getty Images

In the end, they finished 9th and went into free-fall as the club are intending to clear out the squad as it is rumoured they called the likes of Dani Parejo, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin before their recent Leganés loss.

Besides, after finishing 6th last year, Espanyol fans had many hopes to repeat this form, but unfortunately could not do anything as the team failed massively. The Periquitos finish 20th and have gone down disgracefully. Moreover, Celta’s post-coronavirus form should not erase our minds as they were perhaps the most disappointing team this year. The Galicians did not live up to their fans’ afouteza and found themselves in a precarious position early in the year. They finish 17th, just one point below 18th-placed Leganés.

Real Betis record another disappointing season as they finish closer to the relegation zone than Europe, but things look brighter as Mauricio Pellegrini has signed for the Béticos. The future looks better at the Benito Villamarín. On the other hand, Getafe were the team with the most soul all season, but they found themselves outside of Europe after a disappointing run of form saw them dip in the table. They still have a way into Europe if they win the Europa League, as hard as it may be.

At last, Real Sociedad’s form in the last few games cost them massively, and they were close to a Champions League place before crumbling massively when it mattered. Thankfully for the txuri-urdins, they finished in 6th and accomplished their objective of getting into the European spots again.

Surprises of the season

In this section we look back at the most surprising and lovely players and clubs in this league. Having talked so much about Osasuna, their players must have made a real impact in a league that demands a lot in every game. For instance, left-back Pervis Estupiñán’s explosiveness down the flank was a breath of fresh air, and the Ecuadorian loanee from Watford played like a veteran for most of the season. While it was business as usual for Chimy Ávila, Roberto Torres surprised many and scored some crucial goals for the Basque side, including twice against Barcelona.

Minnows Eibar looked like going down at some point, but they played well enough to get points from big teams and stun others. Hats off to José Luis Mendilibar. Who did get relegated was Javier Aguirre’s Leganés, but they played well and deserved much better. It was a surprise to see a team so committed after experiencing a demoralising first quarter of the season.

Unai Bustinza Leganés 2019/20 La Liga review

In the end the outcome was not favourable for them, but Leganés won everyone’s hearts | Photo by Óscar J. Barroso / Zuma via Imago

Further north, Martin Ødegaard’s breakthrough season in La Liga came as a surprise for uneducated fans who didn’t watch him in the Eredivisie. The Norwegian showed how much of a superstar he is, and even though his form dipped due to injury, he was a surprise addition to a Basque side who had the surprises of Mikel Oyarzabal and Mikel Merino to show to La Liga. These two names aren’t surprises for the most knowledgeable La Liga fans, but they made noise outside of Spain and rumours link them to big transfers.

Diego Martínez’s Granada were so refreshing to see. For once, Granada weren’t a punching bag in La Liga and demolished their point record by qualifying for Europe. Sevilla loanee Carlos Fernández was one of the most significant assets of the team as he scored many vital goals. Besides their finish in La Liga, Granada reached the Copa del Rey semi-finals, something they hadn’t done in 51 years.

Seeing Sevilla in the driving seat and not crumbling under pressure was refreshing and lovely really. Lucas Ocampos surprised many as he finished as the club’s top scorer. Diego Carlos, Fernando and Jules Koundé showed many promises. Hopefully, they can replicate that next season.

Believe it or not, Barça were surprising this year…though negatively. First, the Catalans finished with their lowest point tally at the mid-season point in more than a decade, and they continued with this trend by only registering 42 points in the second half of the season. A course to forget for the giants, but they will surely bounce back. Notwithstanding, the two biggest surprises for the Catalans were Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati, who were insane from start to finish as they cemented their place in the team for next term.

Players of the season

This section will be divided into four separate categories, as no player should be compared to Lionel Messi and comparing a defender to an attacker is plain stupidity.

Goalkeeper of the season

Marc-André ter Stegen and Jan Oblak have undoubtedly been one of the best keepers in the world for the past few seasons, but the best in the business in Spain this year was Thibaut Courtois. His Real Madrid side conceded the fewest goals, had the most clean sheets and defended like gods, but they would never have achieved anything without Thibaut’s help. Special mention to Athletic Club’s Unai Simón, who deserved to be Spain’s number one, and Levantes’ Aitor Fernández, who had to cover for his defenders’ repeated mistakes.

Thibaut Courtois Real Madrid

Thibaut Courtois found his best form with Real Madrid this campaign | Photo by Imago

Defender of the season

It is so cliché to pick players from the champions, but Real Madrid had the best defence in the league. Sergio Ramos may be this year’s defender of the year, especially after his goalscoring run in the last few fixtures. He defended magnificently and recorded the most clean sheets in the league – overall superb.

Osasuna’s Aridane Hernández shocked many and deserves a shout in this award, and his team won many points thanks to his solidity. Right-back Damián Suarez was tenacious in Getafe’s defence and won them many points down the right flank. The Uruguayan tamed many attackers while sparkling at times down his wing.

Athletic Club’s whole defence was solid, but one who deserves the shout the most is Yeray Álvarez. The defender who had cancer a few years ago had a superb season in the heart of the Basque team and was one of the best in the league. No wonder Athletic conceded the fewest shots in the league. Full-backs Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche, mostly the latter, excelled too.

Gerard Piqué was astonishing as well as his teammate Clément Lenglet, who had another great season next to the Spaniard. For the other Champions League sides, Atleti’s Felipe and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé stood out in their first campaigns in Spain,

Midfielder of the season

Spaniards are known for their mesmerising midfielders and this La Liga season was nothing short of sensational for the maestros and their superb style of play. Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla has to be the midfielder of the year. The Spaniard’s second season with the Yellow Submarine was superb, and he lifted his teammates so much that Villarreal mounted a challenge for Champions League football. 8th before the break, they finished 5th and in the Europa League thanks to Cazorla mainly. As he joins Al Sadd this summer, European football will miss his class.

Santi Cazorla Villarreal 2019/20 La Liga review

Santi Cazorla’s football will be greatly missed in La Liga | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

Other midfielders have been superb this year. For example, Casemiro lifted his team from their ashes to win the league and was amongst the league’s best players, alongside teammate Toni Kroos. For Atheltic, Dani García was a great defensive asset while he brought something in the offensive department.

Dani Parejo wasn’t his usual self, but he still did enough to save Valencia at times, their best player this year. Thomas Partey was Atleti’s best midfielder and sharpened the midfield when needed. The Ghanaian oozes class and charisma when playing, an absolute gem of a midfielder. The entertaining Martin Ødegaard, from Real Sociedad, and José Campaña, from Levante, were a joy to the eye.

Forward of the season

This is the easiest part of the text, as there was only one winner all year. The man who broke the record for most assists in a league season and won the Pichichi award for the fourth time in a row: Leo Messi. The Argentine magician carried Barça, but they could not win the league.

Karim Benzema came close to win the Pichichi award, but Messi wasn’t too keen. An truly complete season from the Frenchman, though. For Villarreal, Gerard Moreno aided Santi Cazorla with some impressive goals to help the Yellow Submarine achieve Europe. Gerard is the winner of the Telmo Zarra trophy, for the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga, and has had the best season of his career.

Gerard Moreno Villarreal

Gerard Moreno finished as La Liga’s third top goalscorer after Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema | Photo by AFP7 / Zuma via Imago

Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad’s talisman, finished as La Real‘s top assister and also close to Willian José in terms of goals. The attacker’s best season and he is set for a bright future. Iago Aspas’ heroics kept Celta afloat, including his superb free-kick at Balaídos against Barça a month ago. The Galicians finished a point in front of Leganés, and Iago was the best in that team again.

And you, culés, what did you think of this La Liga season?


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As a Lebanese teenager who never had the chance to support their local team, I fell in love with the club that was FC Barcelona at the start of the decade. I always was passionate about writing and this is exactly what I am looking for: sharing my insights and opinions on football.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.


La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.

Initial systems

Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.

Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.

In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.

Koeman’s foresight

Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.

Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.

However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.

Double-pivot

We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.

Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.

Conclusion

For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.

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