Andy Mitten

La Liga review of the year

Andy Mitten

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Lionel Messi clasps the Champions League trophy in May

Moment of the year
Barcelona winning the Champions League at Wembley after again outclassing Manchester United in the final.

Team of the year: Barcelona
Pep Guardiola's side continued to dominate both domestic and European football. They amassed a staggering five trophies in the calendar year, beating Real Madrid to the Spanish league and Super Cup but losing out to Mourinho's side in the Copa del Rey final. That was a rare blip in a year in which they outplayed United just as they outclassed Porto in the final of the European Super Cup and Santos in the Club World Cup. This Barca line-up can claim to be the greatest ever club side.

Notable mention: Levante
Valencia's second club exist on 5 per cent of Barca and Madrid's budget, but they surged up the table to avoid relegation at the end of last season. They won their first seven games of this season and beat Real Madrid and are currently in a Champions League spot. If they were to the finish in the top four then coach Juan Ignacio Martinez deserves the boss of the year award, even if Barca win every trophy there is.

Atmosphere: The Copa del Rey final
Barca and Madrid met for the first time in the Spanish cup final in Valencia and the Mestalla was a site to behold. The sheer-sided 55,000 capacity stadium was split down the middle and both sets of fans were determined to make the most noise. Madrid won with an injury-time winner from Cristiano Ronaldo and their fans stayed long after the Barca end had emptied.

The best players in Spain in 2011
1. Lionel Messi
2. Xavi
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
4. Andres Iniesta
5. Angel Di Maria
6. Xabi Alonso
7. Victor Valdes
8. Gerard Pique
9. Sergio Busquets
10. Gonzalo Higuain

Five best non Barca or Madrid players.
1. Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)
2. Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
3. Radamel Falcao (Atletico & Porto)
4. Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal)
5. Julio Baptista (Malaga)

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Kaka could be leaving Madrid

Biggest disappointment (player)
Kaka. Again. This is all very 2010, but the brilliant Brazilian has continued to disappoint. Injuries have played their part and he has shown signs of a renaissance, but still…

Biggest disappointment (club)
Zaragoza remain in a mess on and off the pitch. They're bottom and adrift of the rest, but they managed to stay up last season, unlike the once sublime Deportivo La Coruna who slipped into the second division on the final day of last season.

Best result
Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona. Jose Mourinho's side were pre-match favourites and could have opened up a six-point gap (with a game in hand) in the December 2011 clasico. Normal order was restored as Barcelona bested their great rivals. Again.

Worst result
Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona. Madrid are doing everything right. They play great attacking football and Mourinho is doing a fine job. They're probably the second best team in the world. There's one big, big problem, however: Barcelona are the first and they keep proving it by beating them.

"The whole world knows Barca is a very strong team, but so are we," maintained Madrid's Mesut Oezil. "In the clasico, we just had some bad luck." If only it was down to luck.

Best game
Valencia 2-3 Real Madrid. Valencia opened brightly in this November game, then Madrid dominated, but Valencia kept coming back at them right until a late disputed penalty. Spanish football at its best.

Notable mention
Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Barcelona. The rain fell hard in Bilbao's 'cathedral', but it only added to the spectacle. Barca conceded a first goal in 11 games and Athletic led until Messi's 93rd-minute equaliser.

Have some sympathy for…
Villarreal. There are injury lists and there are the injuries which Villarreal had to contend with at the start of this season. They had almost a full team sidelined, including their main strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar to serious injury. Juan Carlos Garrido is one of football's good guys and did well enough to lead them to (an ultimately disastrous) Champions League qualification. However, the now departed coach could not survive such a poor run of form.

And so it finally happened

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Cesc Fabregas enjoys a rapport with Lionel Messi

Cesc Fabregas joined Barcelona and the world's most tedious and drawn-out transfer story was concluded. It was worth it — he's been excellent.

Clown of the year
Indian businessman Ahsan 'Mr Ali' Syed, who purchased Racing Santander in January. He didn't even talk a good story about football because he knew nothing about the game. He came on his private jet, he waved his scarf in the presidential box at matches and he went, leaving Cantabria's finest in even more of a hole than the one he aimed to dig them out of. "Racing will not be Man Utd or Barca or Madrid, but we need to begin somewhere," Ali Syed said. Joke.

Hey big spenders
Malaga. The Qatari owned club are getting there, slowly and not very surely.

The Atletico Madrid 'win four and then lose four' award for inconsistency
Espanyol. Notable mention: Atletico Madrid.

Best fans
Real Betis had several 50,000-plus crowds in the second division before they were promoted in May. They're back to play their part in Spain's most intense derbi against Sevilla. Notable mention to Rayo Vallecano's happy bunch of working-class warriors.

Going up in the world
Granada earned back-to-back promotions to play in the top flight for the first time in the 70s. They are more than holding their own in 12th.

The stability where you least expect it award
Unai Emery is now Valencia's longest serving manager in 40 years. He led them to another third-place finish, despite having to sell his best players.

And the national team?
Which one? Spain's Under-19 and Under-21s both won the European championships, and while there wasn't a big tournament for the senior side in 2011, the world's number one team won every single competitive game they played. They slipped up a few times in friendlies, including a defeat to England, not that there's much concern about friendly form in Spain. The reigning World Cup and European Championship holders aim to win again in Euro 2012. Who would bet against them?

Mad Messi stats
Lionel Messi did not miss one minute in 54 of his 57 official games for Barcelona in 2011. He also scored more goals in the 90th minute than any other player.

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