Spanish La Liga Team of the Week

Lionel Messi won the duel with Radamel Falcao as Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the La Liga to nine points with a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid.

Lionel Messi.
Noah Tan

By Noah Tan

The Argentinian, who has now scored an amazing 90 goals in the calendar year, will have done his chances of winning yet another FIFA Ballon d'Or a world of good, even as his main rival for the award, Cristiano Ronaldo, tried in vain to inspire Real Madrid in Los Blancos' insipid 2-2 draw with struggling Espanyol.

Elsewhere, Deportivo La Coruna remain rooted to the bottom of the table after they failed to break down a stubborn Real Valladolid defence as both sides played out to a goalless draw, while Ernesto Valverde's winning start as Valencia coach came to an abrupt end as Rayo Vallecano claimed a shock 1-0 win over Los Che.

Meanwhile, Levante continued their good start to the season with a 1-0 win over Real Zaragoza, Malaga came out 2-0 winners in their local derby with Sevilla, Real Mallorca slumped to their ninth defeat in 11 league games with a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis eked out a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo on Monday.

Finally, Getafe had to come from behind to share the spoils with Osasuna in a 1-1 draw, while Granda woes in front of goal continued as they played out a dull 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad.

Here, selects the best players from the La Liga this week. The formation chosen is 4-4-2.

GK: Gorka Iraizoz (Athletic Bilbao)

It would be fair to say that Iraizoz will not be receiving any presents for Christmas from Mallorca this year after the Bilbao custodian helped extend Los Bermellones' winless streak to 14 games by keeping them at bay with a series of brilliant saves.

The 31-year-old was called into action as early as the 16th minute when he made a stunning save at full stretch to keep out Giovani Dos Santos' free-kick, before showing great speed and agility to get back on his feet to turn Tomer Hemed's follow-up effort away.

Iraizoz then denied Hemed a golden opportunity to get on the scoresheet with a reflex save to tip the Israeli's close range header over the bar, before capping off his magnificent display with a superb dive to stop Victor Casadesus' stinging drive from going into the back of the net.

LB: Perez Nacho (Real Betis)
With Celta manager Paco Herrera naming five forward players in his starting line-up, Betis' defence knew they were in for a tough time, but they came away from their game unscathed, thanks in no small part to a fantastic display by Nacho. The 32-year-old was near unbeatable on the right and managed to stop Augusto Fernandez from wreaking havoc on his flank, cleverly winning back possession from the Argentinian numerous times.

Nacho also provided an energetic presence on the left, tirelessly bombing forward to offer a dangerous outlet of attack for his side and simultaneously pegging back Celta right back Hugo Mallo for majority of the game. It was no surprise that Nacho had a huge part to play in his side's winning goal, going past Mallo effortlessly and showing great awareness to find Jorge Molina in the box, who made no mistake from six yards out.

RB: Adriano (Barcelona)

With Falcao having given is side the lead against the current La Liga table toppers, Los Rojiblancos started to grow in confidence with every passing minute, and for a while, it looked like Barcelona had run out of ideas to break down a stubborn Atletico defence.
Up stepped Adriano to the rescue for Barcelona.

The Brazilian wing-back received the ball on the right flank before cutting in and curling an absolutely magnificent shot past Atletico custodian Thibaut Courtois into the top corner of the net. His goal proved to be the catalyst for the Catalan giants' revitalisation; the Blaugrana never looked back after that, duly dismantling Atletico with ease and picking up a vital three points.

CB: Martin Demichelis (Malaga)
Demichelis has divided opinions of his contribution to the squad in recent times, with many questioning if the Argentinian could still perform at the highest level following a dip in form this season, but the 31-year-old proved his naysayers wrong with an outstanding display at the back for Malaga.

The former Bayern Munich player was near unbeatable in the air and used his experience to great effect, making several important tackles to halt the Sevilla attacks. Demichelis even managed to get himself on the scoresheet, jumping highest at the back post to nod Joaquin Sanchez's corner into the back of the net.

CB: Marc Valiente (Real Valladolid)
Given that Deportivo could have lifted themselves out of the relegation zone with a win against Valladolid, they were understandably eager to attack from the kick-off, and the Pucela's defence was put under heavy pressure for majority of the game.

However, under the leadership of the imperious Valiente at the back, Valladolid's backline refused to budge, and Deportivo failed to find a breakthrough, eventually having to settle for a share of the spoils. The 25-year-old defender cut an imposing figure, clearing his lines effectively and showing excellent reading of the game to make several timely interceptions to deny Deportivo a sniff at goal.

DM: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Playing in a team chock full of world-class attacking talents including the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, a player like Busquets, who functions in the "unglamorous" role of a defensive midfielder is easily forgotten.

However, Barcelona's successes over the past few years could not have been achieved without the contributions of Busquets, and the 24-year-old served a reminder of why he is so important to the team with a virtuoso performance in midfield on Sunday.

Tasked with protecting his backline against the dangerous attacking trident of Falcao, Diego Costa and Arda Turan, Busquets showed great discipline and tactical awareness to position himself in advantageous positions to cover for his defenders, making several crucial interceptions in the process. The Spain international even managed to get himself a rare goal with a composed finish following a scramble in the Atletico penalty box.

CM: Roberto Trashorras (Rayo Vallecano)
It was an extremely dreary affair at the Mestalla as both Valencia and Vallecano struggled to settle into the game, and it took an opportunistic Trashorras to make the difference in a clash which in truth, neither team deserved to win.

The 31-year-old has never been the most technical of players, but whatever he lacks in skill, he more than makes up for with hard work and determination, qualities which helped him lead his team to victory.

With barely seven minutes remaining in the game, Trashorras showed great persistence to chase down Los Che midfielder Tino Costa in the penalty box, the 27-year-old gave ceded possession to Trashorras under pressure, and in a bid to atone for his mistake, fouled the former Getafe player in the box and conceded a penalty, from which Alejandro Dominguez successfully converted.

LM: Juan Albin (Espanyol)

Albin played his part in the biggest upset in the La Liga this weekend, coming off the bench to score a late equalising goal to help Espanyol, second from bottom in the La Liga, pick up a point against the mighty Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 26-year-old was a constant threat to the Real defence when he came on, using his pace and trickery to torment both Fabio Coentrao and Pepe, creating several decent chances for his team-mates in the short time he was on. And he was rewarded with a deserved goal two minutes from time when he found himself in the right place at the right time to sweep the ball past Iker Casillas from close range.

RM: Ruben Garcia (Levante)
Garcia's recent performances for Levante have given Granotes' manager Juan Ignacio Martínez much cause for joy, and the 19-year-old enhanced his burgeoning reputation with yet another mature and exciting display down the flanks against Zaragoza.

The Spaniard used his wide array of tricks and flicks to go beat his marker throughout the game, and his smart off-the-ball running helped stretch the Blanquillos' defence on numerous occasions. And while Garcia has been criticised in the past for not being clinical enough, he made no mistake from close range when he pounced on a loose ball in the Zaragoza penalty box to calmly fire the ball into the back of the net.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The inclusion of Ronaldo may raise a few eyebrows given that Real Madrid slipped up against lowly Espanyol this weekend, but the club's poor result does not preclude Ronaldo from being selected in this week's La Liga Team of the Week, especially given that the Portuguese winger seemed to be the only Los Blancos player who showed any urgency and desire to win the game.
The 27-year-old helped his side level things up with a predatory goal, running in to the box to prod home Sami Khedira's cross from the right, in first-half stoppage time after Espanyol had taken a shock lead through Sergio Garcia.

Ronaldo then set up Fabio Coentrao to score with a lovely reverse pass which completely bamboozled the Espanyol defence.

ST: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
There probably will never be another player able to reach the heights which Messi has scaled with Barcelona after the Argentinian took his goalscoring tally for the calendar year to an amazing 90 goals on Sunday with a brace against Atletico.

For a large part of the game though, Messi looked far from his best as the well marshalled Atletico defence kept close tabs on the 25-year-old, giving him very little space and time to weave his magic.

But trying to keep Messi under wraps for 90 minutes will prove trying for even the best defence, and it was no surprise that the Atletico defence eventually gave way to the genius of the three time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi scored his first goal in the 57th minute, controlling Alexis Sanchez's pass with the instep of his foot at the edge of the area before firing an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. His second goal was scored in typical fashion, with Messi dribbling through into the penalty area before clipping a cute lob over the onrushing Atletico goalkeeper.

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