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

N – Nolito: A fine season for the Celta forward, who managed 13 goals and 13 assists, carrying on his form from last term under Luis Enrique. At 28 years old, Nolito is something of a late bloomer. He stood out for Enrique at Barcelona B, but after finding his first team opportunities limited at the Camp Nou, Nolito had only demonstrated his brilliance in occasional flashes at Benfica and on loan at Granada. At Celta, however, he seems to have found his home, and in November he was called up to the Spain squad.

O – Oblak: After the departure of Thibaut Courtois, Atlético faced a difficult task in finding a replacement of the same quality. Both Miguel Ángel Moyà and Jan Oblak were signed, and, while Moyà impressed in the first half of the season, it is the latter who has established himself as first-choice following his €16 million arrival from Benfica. The 22-year old was unbeatable in the first leg of Atleti’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid (Marca called him a ‘wall’) and seems to have taken on Courtois’ cult status at the Vicente Calderon.

P – Paco Alcácer: The arrival of Nuno at Valencia seemed to signal a new era at Mestalla, and a number of bold signings were made, including Álvaro Negredo. However, it was a younger Spanish striker from the cantera who upstaged the former Sevilla man. Alcácer was hardly unknown at the start of the season (he scored six goals in La Liga in the 2013-14 campaign), but, in his words, it was this year that he was finally ‘liberated’, scoring 14 goals in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. Most importantly, it was his goal against Almería that secured fourth place for Valencia and a place in the Champions League qualifying round.

Q – Quinton Fortune: Yes, really. The former Atlético player provided a few moments of excellent analysis on Sky Sports’ coverage of La Liga, and it is always a pleasure to see him on the panel. Here’s to you, Quinton.

R – Ronaldo: He was unable to help Real to any meaningful silverware apart from the Uefa Supercup and Club World Cup this season, but on an individual level Cristiano Ronaldo continues to exceed his own lofty standards. In January he won the Ballon d’Or for the second year in succession, and his 48 goals in La Liga (five ahead of Messi), including eight (eight!) hat-tricks, comfortably made him the 2014-15 Pichichi. He may never surpass his Argentinian arch-nemesis, but Ronaldo is one of a kind.

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Samu Castillejo represents a new generation for Málaga.

S – Samu Castillejo: Málaga have been left with a youthful side after the exodus of sorts which followed Manuel Pellegrini’s departure two years ago, but they performed above expectations this season, in no small part thanks to the emergence of Samu Castillejo. The wiry 20-year old is versatile, able to play anywhere across the frontline, and is hardworking, representing Javi Gracia’s Málaga 2.0 along with other promising Spaniards such as Juanmi, Sergi Darder and Samu García.

T – Thomas Vermaelen: Since his €19 million move to Barcelona last summer, you could be forgiven for wondering where Vermaelen had gone. The Belgian defender was only declared fit eight months after joining Barça with five games of La Liga remaining because of an injury he sustained from the World Cup, and his only competitive appearance for the Catalans so far was in the final game of the season against Deportivo. Vermaelen participated in Barça’s treble celebrations and was even given a Champions League winner’s medal, but will almost certainly want to play a bigger role next season.

U – Unai Emery: Without a doubt the manager of the season, Emery was once again able to get the best out of his Sevilla side, who were one of the most exciting teams in La Liga this season. Despite losing their best player in Ivan Rakitic last summer, they finished fifth (one point behind fourth-placed Valencia) and qualified for the Champions League by winning the Europa League for a second year in a row. The obsessive Emery seems to have found his perfect fit at Sevilla, and his contract extension to 2017 suggests he is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

V – Vietto: The 21-year old Argentinian striker was probably the biggest revelation in Spain this season, scoring 20 goals in all competitions for Villarreal. He made his breakthrough for Racing Club when a certain Diego Simeone called him up to the first team, and it is no surprise that his former mentor is now desperate to sign him for Atlético. Vietto is rapid, lethal in front of goal and excellent in build-up play, making him one of the most exciting prospects in Europe.

W – Wondergoal: Again, there were plenty of these scored, from Pablo Hernández’s audacious swivelled back-heel against Atlético to Damián Suárez’s long-range screamer for Elche against Rayo. But although it is almost impossible to choose the best goal of the season, Chory Castro’s brilliantly executed left-footed volley against Deportivo will live long in the memory.

epa04787135 Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez celebrates with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League final soccer match between Juventus FC and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany, 06 June 2015.  EPA/MARCUS BRANDT

Xavi left Barcelona on a high note, winning the treble in his final season.

X – Xavi: In contrast to Iker Casillas, Xavi recovered from Spain’s dismal World Cup to end his Barcelona career on a high by winning the treble, even if he did not feature as much as he would have liked to. The 35-year old defined an era for Barça and Spanish football, and will be sorely missed. In the end it was Thiago Alcantara, the former Barcelona midfielder, who put it best. “Xavi is eternal,” he said. “He is football.”

Y – Yellow Submarine: It seems years since Villarreal were in Segunda, but in fact it was only in 2013 that they were promoted back to La Liga after a year spent in Spain’s second division. But if that campaign represented a kind of purgatory for a club which had previously been challenging the likes of Real and Barça, their two consecutive sixth-place finishes in La Liga have arguably redeemed the Yellow Submarine. They may lose their top scorer in Vietto this summer, but Marcelino will remain unfazed.

Z – Zoroniak: The Basque word for ‘congratulations’, though it was a season of mixed fortunes for the Basque outfits. Athletic had an awful start, but Ernesto Valverde’s side turned things around, finishing seventh and reaching the final of the Copa del Rey. Real Sociedad sacked the clueless Jagoba Arrasate after a similarly disappointing start to the season, replacing him with David Moyes. The Scot undoubtedly worked as a short-term solution, with La Real finishing 12th, but whether he is a success at Anoeta will depend on next season. Out of all the Basque sides, however, it is perhaps Eibar who deserve the most credit.

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