As most of La Liga looks forward to a second winter break during the upcoming international window, it’s a great chance for us to take stock of the current situation in Spain’s top flight. Although Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are struggling to keep pace with league leaders Real Madrid, Sevilla are keeping Los Blancos honest and a raft of players have been turning in excellent performances throughout the season. This is our La Liga team of 2021-22 so far, along with the league’s top-performing coach.
Goalkeeper – Yassine Bounou
Although Thibaut Courtois has been in superb form for Real Madrid, Bounou’s performances between the sticks for Sevilla cannot go unrecognised. Los Nervionenses have only conceded 16 goals through their opening 22 matches of the campaign, providing them with a solid foundation to mount their improbable title challenge. Los Rojiblancos have missed their goalkeeper in recent weeks, with Bounou representing Morocco at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, conceding three goals in drawing their last two matches. They can’t get him back soon enough.
Right-back – Hector Bellerin
Joining Real Betis on loan from Premier League outfit Arsenal on deadline day in the summer transfer window, Bellerin has been hitting top form for Los Verdiblancos of late. Still only 26, he has plenty of experience and has become a key component of a Betis side that’s risen to third in the La Liga table. The likes of Bellerin will be crucial to any hopes Betis have of keeping giants such as Atletico and Barca in their wake over the remainder of the campaign.
Centre-back – Jules Kounde
Sevilla may be the only team capable of stopping Madrid from winning the league, and Kounde’s continued form in the heart of defence will be key to the Andalusian’s chances. The France international has shown consistent improvement over recent seasons, and now at the age of 23, is attracting strong interest from some of Europe’s elite clubs. He may not be the tallest, but he more than makes up for that with his positional sense and reading of the game, not to mention his quality on the ball.
Centre-back – David Alaba
Few central defenders are blessed with as much quality on the ball as Alaba. Having only joined Real Madrid on a free transfer from Bayern Munich in the summer, the Austrian brings a wealth of experience to his team. Carlo Ancelotti has mostly deployed Alaba at centre-back, but he can step wide or into midfield with no problems and is as adept at joining attacks as he is at stopping them. His arrival softened the blow of losing both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in the summer no end.
Left-back – Marcos Acuna
Featuring nearly 40 times for Argentina over the last five years, Acuna arrived at Sevilla in the summer of 2020 as a replacement for Sergio Reguillon. The full-back quickly won red and white hearts through his tenacious performances, and he’s continuing to thrive on the left side of Julen Lopetegui’s defence this term. Known for his tenacity and superb quality on the ball, his long-range shots and crossing ability make him a dangerous player for Los Nervionenses going forward, registering three assists so far this season.
Midfield – Carlos Soler
Valencia are toiling in mid-table obscurity right now, with Los Che currently occupying 10th place in La Liga. However, they are only a few points off the European spots, and they have Soler to thank for that. The Spanish midfielder has excelled for his hometown club this season, netting several key goals to take his tally for the season towards the double-figure mark for a second successive campaign. Five of his seven goals have come from the penalty spot, showing he has nerves of steel to complement his all-round play.
Midfield – Casemiro
The lynchpin of the Real Madrid midfield, Casemiro brings the energy and defensive resolve that allows Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to thrive in possession. The Brazilian is also able to influence attacks, laying on three assists so far in 2021-22, but his ability to connect Los Blancos in transition and mesh the team together is priceless for the capital club. He is aggressive in his desire to reclaim possession, boasts a superb engine and has the capacity to take games by the scruff of the neck, playing a huge role in Madrid’s commanding lead at the top of the La Liga standings.
Midfield – Juanmi
Another player who’s key to his team’s lofty league position is Real Betis star Juanmi. The Spaniard has netted 12 times so far this season, without any coming from the penalty spot, putting him second in the La Liga top scorer charts as it stands. The third-placed Verdiblancos have Atletico Madrid and Barcelona hot on their heels, as well as Real Sociedad and Villarreal also challenging for European places, and Juanmi’s ability to keep hitting the back of the net will be crucial down the stretch.
Forward – Memphis Depay
Barcelona may find themselves down in fifth place at present some 15 points behind Real Madrid, but things would be a lot worse for the Catalan giants if it wasn’t for Depay. The Dutch forward arrived at the Nou Camp amid the most difficult of summer circumstances, but has been one of the few bright notes for Barca fans to enjoy during a mostly torrid campaign. There are real seeds of improvement under Xavi, but with most of Depay’s eight La Liga goals proving hugely important, they are deeply indebted to their new signing for still being in touch with the top four.
Forward – Karim Benzema
Despite turning 34 last month, France striker Benzema is showing no signs of slowing down with age. The Madrid star is the top scorer in La Liga with 17 goals in 21 appearances, while he’s also contributed seven assists so far this term. Real haven’t exactly been miserly in defence this season, and it’s been their insatiable appetite for goals that’s put them in a brilliant position to win a record 35th La Liga title.
Forward – Vinicius Junior
Dovetailing beautifully alongside Benzema in the Real Madrid attack, Vinicius has really come of age this season. The Brazilian has matured into a threatening forward with an end product, producing 12 goals and five assists in 21 games to date. The 21-year-old has come a long way in a short space of time and is playing with real confidence and joy, while also benefitting from Madrid’s adventurous tactics that get numbers forward in support of their attacks.
Coach – Julen Lopetegui
It’s been a long road to redemption for Lopetegui, who lost out on the chance to lead Spain at the 2018 World Cup due to what turned out to be a short-lived spell as Real Madrid coach. If the 55-year-old could overhaul his former employers and lead Sevilla to only the second La Liga title in their history, and their first since 1946, it would go down as one of the most remarkable achievements we’ve ever seen in Spanish football. Los Nervionenses are only four points behind Los Blancos, and if they can stay close as we reach the business end of the season, you never know.