THE LA LIGA TEAM OF THE DECADE
As the 2010s come to an end, More Than A Game takes a look at the greatest players to have made it to the team of the decade in Spain’s crème-de-la-crème, La Liga. La Liga teams have won 6 out of the 10 Champions League trophies this decade, making it probably the most successful league during this period. Let’s have a look at who makes the cut, and who misses out.
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak
Jan Oblak joined then Spanish champions, Atlético Madrid in the 2014/15 season having impressed Diego Simeone during his time at Benfica. During his first season with Los Colchoneros, the Slovenian shotstopper played second fiddle to Miguel Ángel Moyà, but Simeone quickly realized that he was sitting on a goalkeeping treasure when Moyà suffered an injury.
Since then Oblak has been the Rojiblancos’ star keeper. To have a quick insight into the impenetrable wall that is Jan Oblak’s displays, going over his statistics in the league that are beyond unimaginable will paint an accurate picture. The’ keeper has conceded only 104 goals in his 169 games for the club with 96 cleansheets to his name. He nips Barcelona’s, Marc-André ter Stegen for the No.1 spot as the German while having played very well, failed to get similar numbers owing to Barcelona’s defensive problems. However, that is not to take away any credit from the sensational Oblak.
Right-back: Dani Alves
Dani Alves was always an extremely eye-catching player, even during his Sevilla days. To add to his flair on the pitch, the Brazilian’s erratic behavior off the pitch always made him a very likeable figure. While, his stats are not comparable to his teammates, he was one of the most important players in FC Barcelona’s star-studded squad. His surge down the right flank always spread the opposition wide, helping the midfield operate freely in the middle.
Alves’ connection with Lionel Messi was almost telepathic with the current Sãu Paulo assisting his South American teammate 26 times in total, a record bettered only by Luis Suarez.
Dani Alves revolutionized the role of the attacking fullback as he also made inverted runs, playing a major role in the Blaugrana’s forays forward and showcasing the footwork of a top-notch winger.
Centre-back: Gerard Piqué
Gerard Piqué is a highly debatable inclusion but one that had to be made. While Piqué might not be the most prolific from a defensive standpoint, he makes the cut over Sergio Ramos as Real Madrid in this decade have never had a better defensive record than Barça. While, Pique does not possess the goalscoring touch that Ramos has, questions need to be asked of the La Roja skipper that tends to make up for his defensive mistakes by scoring at the other end. Piqué’s long balls, reading of play is unrivaled, movement with the ball are attributes that often helps Barça get away from tight situations as they maintain a high line.
Piqué is the textbook Barcelona central defender and whatever said and done, he continues to offer the full package.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos
Love him or loathe him, Sergio Ramos is always in the thick of things and the Los Blancos captain will always influence a tie, whether that’s through his heroic strikes, his gung-ho approach to defending or a moment of pure head loss that comes out of nowhere.
Whilst he may not possess the defensive skillset of Pique, Ramos would always be one of the first names down on the team sheet. This is a player that you would gladly go to war for and with, even if his disciplinary record leaves a lot to be desired. Always leading by example, putting in a shift and coming up with goals when needed, he has been Mr. Real Madrid for years now. Where Ramos goes, his team-mates follow, and he’s arguably been their most influential player in the past decade along with Cristiano Ronaldo.
While the ex-Sevilla man divides opinion among footballing purists over his defensive solidity, a strong case can be made for Ramos to be one of the most clutch players in his position to grace the game.
Marcelo was a close call over Barcelona’s Jordi Alba as both have been absolutely phenomenal left-backs for their respective teams, surging forward from the left side of defence. Marcelo was the outright candidate for the left-back berth just because he has been top dog in his position since 2006.
Reigning over Spanish football for almost a decade and a half, the Brazilian’s blistering speed, close control and fleet-footedness on the ball helped him become a pivotal part of the Madrid squad. Marcelo has scored 17 goals and provided 58 assists in just over 250 league games for the Los Merengues.
During Cristiano Ronaldo’s last couple of seasons, the former Manchester United superstar occupied a more central role with Marcelo operating as a left-winger, essentially which is testament to his unique skillset and the fact that he truly has been a different breed.
Defensive-midfielder: Sergio Busquets
Sergio Busquets was the pivot in what was probably the greatest midfield of all time. Busquets was whatever the team needed him to be, a pivot, a centre-back or even an interior on either side of the field. The Spaniard was not as appreciated as his teammates, as his job usually involved getting his team out of danger before the threat even appeared. Only in the last 3-4 years has Busquets started gaining recognition from everyone other than culés.
Busquets has been one of the main players in Barcelona’s 7 league titles in the last decade and will go down in history as one of the greatest midfielders to kick a football in history.
Centre-midfielder: Xavi Hernández
Xavi and Iniesta are the most respected midfield duo in world football. There is not a single coach in the world that wouldn’t have killed to get the pair to play under them. Xavi’s passing ability knew no bounds, his vision was impeccable and he could find a needle in a haystack from 50 yards away. Thierry Henry once said, “Pep told us to stay in our positions out wide and only make runs when either Xavi had the ball or we were in the final half.” That’s exactly how good Xavi’s vision was.
His movement wasn’t too shabby either to say the least. Xavi’s movements were crisp and precise; he was in all one of the most calculated players ever born and was truly ahead of his time.
Centre-midfielder: Andrés Iniesta
Andres Iniesta was pure magic. Numbers can never describe the feeling one received when watching on the magic of Iniesta on the pitch. The man was the first entry into this team. Yes, even before Messi. While, Messi got the plaudits for his goals, Iniesta silently took his place as the greatest midfielder of all-time. Iniesta was the perfect partner for Xavi during their heyday.
One of the best dribblers the world has ever seen, he made up for his lack of pace with his absolute wonder of a touch. On his good day, it was better to just forget that you could get the ball off him.
In terms of progressing the ball further forward, the diminutive artist would leave defenders for dead at the drop of hat and truly make the game look like a piece of cake.
Right-winger: Lionel Messi
The greatest of all time? That is a debate for a different article. The La Masia graduate is the highest goalscorer in the history of La Liga and also boasts having the most hattricks in the league. However, what must be said is that just as has been said about Iniesta, numbers do not do justice to the genius that is Messi as the beautiful game is yet to see a more complete footballer than the Argentine himself.
A special mention must be given to Messi’s 2011/12 season where the mesmeric forward reached half a century of goals in 37 games while having provided 16 assists as well. Breaking Gerd Müller’s record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year (2012) with a staggering 92 to his name, Messi’s progression shows no signs of stopping as the Albiceleste skipper remains the best player alive.
Not just fans of Spanish football, but people that adorn the sport worldwide feel truly privileged to live in an era where Lionel Messi has been at his very best
Striker: Luis Suárez
This was a difficult decision between Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Luis Suárez. The pick would have been easy had Suárez played the whole decade, like the two Frenchmen as the former Liverpool man is certainly the most certified goal machine among the 3 forwards.
However, ultimately, the Uruguayan made the pick because he is the only one to have broken the Messi-Cristiano dominance as the top scorer in a season in 2016.
Luis Suárez could perhaps make a strong case for being the best striker in world football over the decade, let alone just in Spain’s top flight.
Left-winger: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has undoubtedly been one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time and is truly is a generational find. The Portuguese made a sensational move from the city of Manchester to the Spanish capital, transforming a club of the stature of Real Madrid to unimaginable heights. The winger has scored 285 goals for Real Madrid in this decade, providing 92 assists in just over 260 league games. Between 2010 and his departure to Serie A in 2018, Ronaldo scored 40+ league goals in a single season on 3 occasions.
Ronaldo finished the La Liga tenure with the second most goals in the league, scoring 34 hat-tricks and most of all, being an all-round devastating force throughout his time in Spain. A born winner that showed week in, week out that he was an absolute marvel.
To put it simply, Cristiano Ronaldo was, is and always will be greatness personified.
Best of the Rest
Goalkeeper: Marc-André ter Stegen
Marc-André made the cut over Iker Casillas, solely due to his much greater saves per goal conceded ratio. The German goalkeeper has resurrected Barcelona from the dead plenty of times and truly represents a gamechanger in his position. With the footwork that any midfielder would be proud of, his ability to stay calm under pressure and his ability to pick passes which often start transitions shows that he the embodiement of the ultimate Barcelona goalkeeper.
Centre-back: Diego Godin
The Atleti captain just fell short of making the cut over Sergio Ramos, despite to his absolutely tight defensive record and his crucial goal against Barcelona on the last match day in 2013/14 to hand Los Colchoneros their first La Liga title in 20 years. While there is no denying that Godin has been defensively superb, Ramos provides stiff competition to anyone in his position simply due to his all-round impact.
Left-back: Jordi Alba
Jordi Alba’s failure to solidify his position was simply down to the brilliance of Marcelo. While the pair are quite similar in their approaches, it must be said that Alba is the weaker of the two defensively. Offensively, there is room for debate as Alba’s link-up with Messi has been outstanding and seems to rely more on partnerships while Marcelo is more of an individualist going forward. The Spaniard has been absolutely scintillating under Ernesto Valverde and continues to be a fine left-back.
Centre-midfielder: Luka Modrić
Luka Modrić has been one of the best midfielders in the world in the last decade. By winning the 2018 Ballon d’Or, he became the only player other than Messi and Ronaldo to win the award in the last decade.
However, the godly midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta will forever remain insurmountable.
Striker: Karim Benzema
While, Karim Benzema might not have been as deadly in front of goal as his former teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, the Frenchman came in clutch when mattered for Madrid. While Los Blancos only won a single league title in the decade with the former Lyon striker at their disposal, he has been key to their domination in Europe and his sacrificial style of play makes Benzema a truly unique No.9.