An A to Z of La Liga 2014-15: Part One

A – Ancelotti: Given Real Madrid’s capitulation in La Liga last season and the fact that Carlo Ancelotti was able to deliver the fabled Décima, the success of the Italian’s second campaign hinged on his side’s performance in La Liga. Despite their remarkable 22-match winning streak and victories in the Uefa Supercup and Club World Cup, Real’s season ended in disappointment as they were dumped out of the Champions League by an Álvaro Morata-inspired Juventus and lost out to Luis Enrique’s reinvigorated Barcelona in La Liga. Even so, the decision to sack Ancelotti, while unsurprising, could prove to be a huge mistake by Florentino Pérez.

B – Blaugrana: It was a season to remember for Barcelona, who claimed another treble, this time with Luis Enrique at the helm. A few eyebrows were raised following the appointment of the former Barça player and B team coach as manager, with many questioning whether ‘Lucho’ was up to the task of managing one of the biggest clubs in the world after relatively short spells at Celta and Roma. Enrique is uncompromising, but his methods have succeeded in giving this Barça side bite and restoring them to the pinnacle of European football.

C – Casillas: Booed by some Madridistas at the start of the season and towards the end, Casillas endured a torrid time in the aftermath of his disastrous World Cup. It was fully expected that Ancelotti would drop Spain’s No.1 in favour of Keylor Navas, but instead he opted to give ‘San Iker’ a chance, making him first choice in both La Liga and the Champions League.  Casillas seemed to be back to his best, but soon errors crept back into his game. The enduring image of Casillas’ season was his careless foul throw in the dying minutes against Juventus.

D – Drubbings: As always, there were plenty of these in La Liga this season.  9-1, 8-2, 6-0 and 7-3 were just some of the scorelines inflicted by Real and Barça, and while the top sides in La Liga may be thriving, the disparity between Spain’s elite and the bottom half of the table remains a real issue to be addressed.

E – Eibar: With a stadium holding just 6,000 and a city of around 27,000 inhabitants (almost four times as small as the total capacity of the Camp Nou), relegation was always a probability for Eibar. For a while they defied expectations, and at one point were even close to Europe, but they were relegated in the cruellest of fashions on the final day of the season (despite being 3-0 up against already relegated Córdoba with half an hour left, results went against them elsewhere). However, Gaizka Garitano’s side were handed a lifeline when Elche were relegated because of unpaid tax debts, meaning Eibar will take their place in La Liga next season. Although Elche are likely to appeal, many Spanish football fans will hope to see more of Eibar’s fearlessness in the top flight.

F – Fede Cartabia: It was a hugely disappointing season for the highly touted Argentinian winger of whom big things were expected after his promotion to Valencia’s first-team in 2013.  He was loaned out to Córdoba after the arrival of Nuno at Mestalla, and was unable to prevent the Andalusian side from finishing bottom. Just four goals and five assists in 30 games is a poor return, and he will find his opportunities limited if he returns to Valencia.

A questionable hairstyle, but Griezmann has lit up La Liga for Atlético.

A questionable hairstyle, but Griezmann has lit up La Liga for Atlético with 22 goals, making him joint third top scorer.

G – Griezmann: Atlético did not live up to their title-winning campaign of last season, but Diego Simeone pulled off his shrewdest transfer move yet when he signed Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad last summer for a €30 million fee which has increasingly looked like a bargain. El Cholo has managed to get the very best out of the Frenchman, moulding him into the perfect player for his side. Griezmann scored 22 goals in La Liga, joint third only behind Ronaldo and Messi, and if – and it is a big if – Atleti can hold on to Griezmann, he could help them to mount another title challenge next season.

H – Huelga: The Spanish word for ‘strike’. At one point it did seem as if the season might really be left incomplete, with players going on strike after a dispute which involved the LFP (the National Professional Football League), the RFEF (Spanish Football Federation), the Spanish players’ association and the government itself. The RFEF were incensed that they hadn’t been fully consulted over a new law on broadcasting rights for Spanish football, a recurring debate in Spanish football. The strike was eventually suspended by a Spanish court, but the polemic will almost certainly rear its head again next season.

I – Iñaki Williams: Becoming the first black player to score for Athletic Club, hearing the San Mamés chant your name, scoring in the Copa del Rey final– as far as debut seasons go it doesn’t get much better for Williams, the 20-year old born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and a Liberian mother, who joined the club’s famous Lezama youth system at 16. As well as possessing the physical traits that make a great Athletic striker (think Fernando Llorente), Williams is a more modern kind of forward, boasting excellent pace and dribbling qualities. If he can maintain his progress, he could be crucial to Athletic in years to come.

J – Jonathas: The on-loan Brazilian forward was Elche’s shining light in an otherwise average season, contributing 14 goals and seven assists in La Liga, meaning he was directly involved in 60% of his side’s goals. With bigger clubs including Atlético circling and Elche relegated, however, it seems unlikely that they will be able to hold on to their top scorer for another season.

K – Krychowiak: One of the key components in Unai Emery’s Europa League-winning side, the Polish midfielder was relatively untested when he arrived at Sevilla from Reims last summer. Since then, he has proven himself to be a tough-tackling player who marshals the midfield ruthlessly. Against Real Madrid Krychowiak insisted he should play on despite nursing a broken nose, and Sid Lowe’s judgement of him as possibly the ‘hardest’ player in La Liga seems to be an accurate assessment.

L – Lob: It was the 47th minute of Atlético’s Copa del Rey quarter-final tie with Barcelona. Barca were 4-2 up on aggregate and Atleti were down to 10 men after Gabi’s sending off. Then came perhaps the most bizarre moment of the season. Arda Turan clashed with Dani Alves and his boot came off – which he then decided to hurl at an assistant referee. However, the match between Barcelona and Celta in La Liga produced an even stranger incident, in which Celta’s Fabián Orellana was sent off for throwing a piece of turf at Sergio Busquets.

M – Messi: After a disappointing season for Barça as a whole and losing both the World Cup final and the Ballon d’Or last year, Messi came back in style to silence his doubters – not that he ever really ‘left’. He may have finished second in the Pichichi race behind Ronaldo, but the Argentinian was undoubtedly the standout player in La Liga this season, and continues to show why he is the greatest ever. He is the conductor alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar in Barça’s fluid attacking triumvirate, and his goal against Athletic in the Copa del Rey final seemed to sum up everything that makes him so brilliant.

Updated on 7 June following Elche’s relegation and Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final. 


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