This week in LaLiga: Zidane, Alaba, Villarreal and much more

What has been going on in LaLiga this past week? Here are 10 of the top stories, from Villarreal’s Europa League win to coaching changes. 

Joaquín is staying at Real Betis 

Joaquín will add to his legacy at Real Betis, with the club icon having agreed to a new contract that will run until 2022 and that will see him play at the Estadio Benito Villamarín as a 40-year-old. The club have even named one of the stadium gates after Joaquín, who says he’s prepared to keep performing at the highest level. 

Zinedine Zidane leaves Real Madrid 

Zinedine Zidane has left his role as head coach at the Santiago Bernabeu outfit. The Frenchman had returned to the club in March 2019 for a second stint in charge and won the 2019/20 LaLiga Santander title and the 2019/20 Spanish Super Cup, meaning he brought 11 total trophies to the Bernabéu across his two spells in charge. A true club legend. 

Real Madrid bring in David Alaba 

In the same week as Zidane’s departure, there has been an arrival at Real Madrid too. David Alaba, the versatile Austrian, has made the move to LaLiga Santander after a decade performing at the highest level.  

José Bordalás switches the Coliseum for Mestalla 

José Bordalás’ very successful spell with Getafe has come to an end, with the coach deciding to leave the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez and take over the Valencia dugout at Mestalla. The man who led Getafe to the Europa League will now look to take Valencia back to where they belong, back to European football. 

Míchel returns to Getafe 

Bordalás’ position at Getafe has already been filled, with Míchel taking over. He returns to the club he already coached between 2009 and 2011, when he took Geta to the Europa League group stage. Real Madrid legend Míchel has also coached Sevilla and Málaga at LaLiga Santander level. 

The end of Diego Martínez’s Granada miracle 

Granada were one of the many clubs involved in the week of managerial musical chairs, with Diego Martínez having announced that he is leaving the Andalusian club. What he achieved at Granada was miraculous. Under his watch, Granada secured promotion to LaLiga Santander and then qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s history after just a single season, taking them all the way to the Europa League quarter-finals. 

Villarreal are Europa League champions 

Villarreal won the first major trophy in their history and they did so in style, defeating Manchester United on penalties in Gdansk, Poland to lift the Europa League. All 22 players had to take a spot kick in a shootout where nobody missed until Gerónimo Rulli saved against his counterpart David de Gea, after the Argentine goalkeeper had just converted a penalty of his own. It was a huge moment and historic achievement for Villarreal, who hail from a city of just 50,000 people and who first played top tier football in 1998.  

Espanyol promoted as LaLiga SmartBank champions 

We already knew that Espanyol and RCD Mallorca were the two clubs who had achieved automatic promotion into LaLiga Santander ahead of the 2021/22 season, but now Espanyol have confirmed that they are coming up as champions. Both teams finished with 82 points, but Espanyol had the better head-to-head record. 

The LaLiga SmartBank playoffs are set 

With the LaLiga SmartBank season having reached its conclusion, we now know the six clubs who’ll battle it out in the promotion playoffs. Leganés will take on fellow Madrid side Rayo Vallecano, while Almería will face Girona. Both semi-final ties will have two legs, the first of which take place this week. 

Barcelona win LaLiga Promises Santander 

The latest edition of the prestigious LaLiga Promises Santander youth tournament was held this weekend and Barcelona’s youngsters came out on top. They overcame Sevilla in the final of the competition, which was held at Villarreal’s Ciudad Deportiva Pamesa Cerámica. The future is bright at La Masia. The 2020 tournament, rearranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be played this weekend.   

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David Alaba: the latest Real Madrid’s star

The Austrian has become Real Madrid’s latest superstar signing, landing in LaLiga after a long and successful spell at Bayern Munich. 

Real Madrid have made their first acquisition of the summer, signing David Alaba on a free transfer now that the Austrian’s 13-year stint with Bayern Munich has come to an end. The 28-year-old is the most versatile of players, as he can play in defensive midfield or across the back line, but here are five other things you may not know about his story so far.  

His record-breaking Austria debut actually came before his senior club debut 

Vienna-born Alaba has now played for Austria’s senior national team almost 80 times and has captained his country on occasion, having come a long way from when he made his debut at the age of just 17 years, three months and 20 days. His international debut in a World Cup qualifier against France in 2009 incredibly came before his first team debut at club level. Alaba was still playing for Bayern Munich’s B team at that time but was so obviously talented that Austria coach Dietmar Constantini gave him his debut in senior football at the Stade de France. He was, and remains, the youngest player to ever play for Austria.  

He made an immediate impact with Bayern Munich 

Following his international debut, Alaba had to wait some four months for his club debut, but Bayern Munich soon came calling. Again, he broke the club’s youngest player record, taking to the pitch aged 17 years, seven months and 17 days. What’s more, he made an immediate impact, assisting A Frank Ribery goal just a minute after coming on in a 6-2 come-from-behind win over SpVgg Greuther Fürth in the German Cup. 

He hails from a truly global family 

George Alaba, David’s father, has an incredible story in his own right. A prince from Ogun State, Nigeria, George moved to Vienna to study economics. In the Austrian capital, he became the first black guard soldier in the Austrian army before embarking on a music career. Gina, David’s mother, is from the Philippines and he pays tribute to his parents’ nationalities with flags on his boots. If that wasn’t enough, his sister Rose May Alaba is a musician who has had chart-topping songs in Austria.  

He’s synonymous with Bayern Munich, but he also played for Hoffenheim 

Given that Alaba has become synonymous with Bayern Munich over the past decade, not everyone knows that he had a loan spell away from Bavaria. Over the second half of the 2010/11 season, he spent six months at the finishing school of Hoffenheim and learned a lot within the well-renowned structures there. When he went back to Bayern Munich, he was ready to start for the German giants for the next decade.  

He scored a gutsy penalty against Real Madrid 

Alaba knows his new club well, as he has faced Real Madrid seven times over the course of his career in the Champions League. The first meeting was in the 2011/12 semi-finals, when he was still a teenager, and he volunteered to take the first penalty of the shootout after the two sides couldn’t be separated over two legs. Alaba scored past Iker Casillas in Bayern’s victory at the Santiago Bernabéu, the stadium he’ll now call home.  

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Atletico de Madrid’s season in numbers

Here are all the statistics you need to know to understand just how impressive Atleti’s LaLiga title-winning season has been.  

Atletico de Madrid put together an incredible season. A huge part of their success, as it is every season, was their solidity at the back. Jan Oblak conceded just 25 goals this season, a statistic which saw him pick up his fifth award for the best keeper in LaLiga. The Slovenian was of fundamental importance to Atleti’s title charge, keeping 18 clean sheets and making 103 saves – 80% of all shots on goal. He’s also been a star in penalty situations, saving two of the four he faced. The second of the two, against Elche CF, came in second half stoppage time and saved a crucial 2-1 win for his side in the final run-in.  

Atleti proved once again their defensive mettle. Centre-back Stefan Savic led in duels won (151), as well as aerial duels (91). His defensive partner, Uruguayan Jose Maria Gimenez, led the way in ball recoveries in defence with 156, while Brazilian Felipe Augusto registered the most clearances among Atleti players with 127.   

Atleti regularly played the ball out from the back. For evidence, look no further than the fact that three of the defenders in their regular starting XI registered over 1,000 passes this season: Mario Hermoso (1,492), Savic (1,482) and Kieran Trippier (1,183). They also chipped in and contributed in goalscoring. Hermoso stood out across LaLiga with a goal and an assist. Savic also got on the scoresheet.   

Atleti have also been stellar in attack this season. Diego Simeone’s side scored 67 goals in LaLiga, second only behind FC Barcelona. And if we’re talking about goalscoring, Luis Suarez merits a mention. The Uruguayan netted 21 times this season and provided three assists, giving Atleti the kind of killer instinct up front that they needed to take that next step. His final goal of the season, against Real Valladolid, was the goal that sealed the championship for Los Rojiblancos. 

Marcos Llorente also deserves a mention. Llorente is a kind of swiss army knife on the pitch, able to play in the middle of the park, in defence or up front. His season stats speak for themselves. He led his teammates in with 167 duels won, in assists (11) and was the team’s second top scorer with 12.   

We shouldn’t forget Yannick Carrasco. The Belgian international played a key role in Atleti’s 11th LaLiga title-winning season with 10 assists and 6 goals, one of which was the winner against Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano back before Christmas. Nor can we forget Angel Correa, who scored nine goals and provided eight assists.  

Every winning team needs a leader, and this Atleti team has a great one. Captain Koke is the heart and soul of Simeone’s side, and everything goes through him. His 2,155 passes this season were the most among his teammates by quite some way.  

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Road to UEL’s final: Pau Torres

Few young defenders have made a quicker impact on LaLiga than Villarreal’s Pau Torres, with the physically and technically gifted centre-back’s present quality and future potential clear for all to see. 

Just three months after making his first LaLiga Santander start, the composed and committed 22-year-old impressed sufficiently to earn a call up to Spain’s senior international side. He then scored just 59 seconds into his La Roja debut, in November’s 7-0 Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta, with Villarreal clubmates Santi Cazorla, Gerard Moreno and centre-back partner Raul Albiol all on-hand to join in the celebrations. He’s now a fixture at the back for both club and country, and looks set to lead the defensive line for Spain at this summer’s European Championships. 

While few would have predicted such a spectacular debut on the international stage, Torres was long seen as an outstanding defensive prospect as he moved seamlessly up towards the top senior level through recent seasons. 

Born in the town of Villarreal in January 1997, when the town’s club had not yet dreamed of playing at LaLiga Santander level, Torres joined their youth ranks aged just six years old, and also overcame a serious double leg break as a teenager as he progressed towards the senior ranks. 

The 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons saw him a regular starter as Villarreal’s B side challenged for promotion from the Segunda B third tier. His first team debut came aged 19 in the Copa del Rey in December 2016, while he also gained European experience in that season’s Europa League with the seniors and Youth League with the under-19s. The following year he made his LaLiga Santander debut as a late substitute at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. 

Other clubs had also been following his progression carefully, and Malaga took him on loan for 2018/19 campaign. He played 40 times in LaLiga SmartBank last season, as the Andalusian side also just missed out on promotion to LaLiga Santander. A first senior goal came at Osasuna in November 2018, but it was his defensive solidity and calmness on the ball which really impressed with the Andalusians. 

Then-Villarreal first team coach Javi Calleja had been a close follower of Torres’ development, and decided to make him a first-choice central defender for 2019/20 alongside experienced veteran Raul Albiol. The complementary pairing clicked immediately, playing almost every minute together over the first 15 matches of the LaLiga season. 

Despite being new to the top level, Torres was not overawed by taking on big name attackers like Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez as Villarreal matched Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw at the Estadio de la Ceramica and were narrowly defeated 2-1 at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. The opening weeks also saw the youngster also got his first senior goal for his hometown club, again at Osasuna’s El Sadar. 

Quick to learn, the left-footed now 24-year-old is excellent in the air, no surprise given his 1.91 metre frame, and impressive at reading the game. Well capable of passing the ball accurately out from the back, he has said he modelled his play on Villarreal legend Bruno Soriano. 

In fact, Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal’s all-time leading goalscorer who trained with the first-team squad back in 2019 with a view to making a comeback following a series of serious knee injuries, declared that “the sky is the limit” for the youngster.  

In spite of his age, Torres is now a regular for Spain and one of the finest centre-backs in LaLiga. His quality has been instrumental in Villarreal’s run to the UEFA Europa League final, and the coming years should bring much more recognition and success for one of Spain’s best  defenders. 

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Road to UEL’s final: Carlos Bacca

Goals and Carlos Bacca go hand in hand. The Colombian has scored 62 goals in 181 matches across his six seasons in LaLiga, the last three of which came in a memorable hat-trick against his former side. 

1. Carlos was born in Puerto Colombia, five minutes from the Caribbean Sea on Colombia’s northern coast. Before making the jump to professional football, Bacca worked part-time as a bus ticket salesman on the line between his hometown and Barranquilla. He would also help his father, who was a fisherman.  

2. His breakthrough came at the age of 22, older than many of his contemporaries, when he signed his first professional contract with Junior Barranquilla. He certainly made an impact on his debut, though. Coming on with 20 minutes to go with the game tied at 0-0, Carlos scored with his first two touches. The rest is history.   

3. On the penultimate day of the 2020/21 LaLiga season, he wrote his name into the history books with a hat-trick for Villarreal CF against Sevilla FC, his former club. His three-goal haul saw him become the only player in the history of the Yellow Submarine to score three hat-tricks for the club, passing club and LaLiga legend Diego Forlan (2). 

4. Carlos has spoken on many occasions of his love for Colombian food, in particular his mother’s cooking and shrimp! 

5. He was awarded the Barranquilla City Medal at the Colombian embassy in Madrid in 2014, in recognition of his sporting achievements and how he is an example for future generations of Colombians.  

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Road to UEL’s final: Unai Emery

Emery returned to LaLiga this season with Villarreal and, though a well-known name around the world, here are five things you might not know about the Basque tactician. 

1. His grandfather conceded the first ever LaLiga goal 

LaLiga was launched way back in 1929, with the inaugural match being RCD Espanyol vs Real Unión Irún on February 10th. Remarkably, the Irun goalkeeper that day was a certain Antonio Emery, Unai’s grandfather. Unfortunately for Antonio, he went down in history as the man who conceded the first ever LaLiga goal to Pitus Prat as Espanyol won 3-2. Unai’s father – and Antonio’s son – Juan Emery, also played as a goalkeeper for Real Unión Irún, amongst other clubs. 

2He once selected his starting line-up by rolling dice 

After a modest playing career, Emery took to coaching and quickly guided UD Almería to Spain’s top division for the first time in their history. Their first game at LaLiga Santander level was against RC Deportivo and Emery, keen to show his squad how much he trusted them no matter which XI started the match, rolled dice to determine his line-up. And it worked! The Andalusians won 3-0 on the day to make the perfect start to their top-flight history.   

3He won three Europa Leagues in a row, something no manager in history can match 

Emery’s greatest achievements as a coach came with Sevilla when he won three consecutive Europa League titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015. He shares the distinction of winning the trophy on three occasions with the great Giovanni Trapattoni, but the honour of winning it three times in a row is his and his alone. He now has the chance to make it four, which would make him the most successful manager in the history of the competition.  

4. He spent time in Russian football 

While Emery’s spells in the French and English capitals with PSG and Arsenal are well known, he also spent time in Moscow earlier on in his managerial career. After coaching Lorca, Almería and Valencia, Emery headed to the Russian capital to take charge of Spartak Moscow in 2012. He was only at the club for half a year, before being lured back to Spain to embark on his triumphant spell in charge of Sevilla.  

5He’s a published author 

In between coaching training sessions and analysing matches from the touchline, Emery found time to write a book about his managerial success. Published in 2012, it was written in collaboration with Juan Carlos Cubeiro and titled ‘Mentalidad Ganadora: El Método Emery’ – or, in English, ‘Winning Mentality: The Emery Methodology’.  

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Five top goalkeepers in LaLiga history

After Thibaut Courtois, from Real Madrid, Jan Oblak won the trophy this season. The Atlético goalkeeper thus adds his fifth trophy and stands as the goalkeeper with the most Zamoras along with Ramallets and Víctor Valdés. We run through some of the most iconic and unique keepers from all over the world to have won this award in recent years.  

Jan Oblak (Atletico de Madrid) 

We start with the most recent. Atleti’s Slovenian keeper has cemented his reputation as one of the world’s premier shot stoppers in recent years, taking home five Zamora awards from the last six (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2020-21). An almost wall-like between the sticks for Los Colchoneros since joining from Portuguese side Benfica in 2014, Oblak is a bona fide star for coach Diego Simeone’s famously defensively tight team.  

BARCELONA, ESPANA – OCTUBRE 26: Victor Valdes en el partido entre el FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid, jornada 10 de la Liga BBVA 2013-2014 en el Estadio del Camp Nou el 26 de octubre 2013 / Barcelona, Spanish BBVA Liga. FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Spanish first division soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, October 26, 2013 /(Photo: Mikel Trigueros / UrbanandSport / Cordon Press)

Victor Valdes (FC Barcelona) 

Never recognised at international level to the extent his El Clasico rival Iker Casillas was, Victor Valdes nevertheless wrote his name into both the LaLiga and Barcelona history books by picking up five Zamora awards, including four consecutive gongs between 2008 and 2012. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and with a knack for pulling off incredible saves at big moments, Valdes was in many senses the perfect goalkeeper for the iconic and possession-based Barcelona sides of the mid-00s and 2010s. A true legend of Spanish football.  

Roberto Abbondanzieri (Getafe CF) 

The long-time Argentina number one picked up the Zamora trophy in 2006/07 against all the odds as part of an unfancied but remarkable Getafe side which ended the season with the best defensive record in the whole of LaLiga Santander. El Pato – ‘The Duck’ – became a fan favourite in his three seasons at the suburban Madrid side, sandwiched between over a decade at Argentinian side Boca Juniors. It’s easy to forget just how good Abbondanzieri actually was; he was named among the top 10 goalkeepers in the world of the 2000s by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHHS). 

Santiago Cañizares (RC Celta, Valencia CF) 

Remembered across Europe for his bleach blond hair and fast reflexes, Cañizares won four Zamora titles with two different sides throughout his career. His first came at RC Celta in 1992/93, sharing the award with Francisco Liaño over at local rivals RC Deportivo. By the late 1990s, he’d made his way to Valencia CF via hometown club Real Madrid. At Mestalla he won three more, becoming an icon of the club’s late-90s and early 00s success: 2000/01, 2001/02 and 2003/04, the final two coming in LaLiga title-winning seasons.  

Jacques Songo’o (RC Deportivo) 

The only African to ever win the Zamora and one of the most loved foreign imports to LaLiga over the last few decades, Cameroon international Songo’o won the award in 1996/97 – his first ever season in Spanish football – as RC Deportivo finished third behind champions Real Madrid and a Ronaldo Nazario led Barcelona side. Famously a fan of playing in long trousers, the Yaoundé-born shot stopper would go on to win a LaLiga title in 1999/00 and settle in the area after retirement.   

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The verdicts of LaLiga’s 2020-21 season

Winners, losers, thrills and spills: here’s all you need to know about the final week of the LaLiga Santander season. 

The title race: Atlético de Madrid are champions for an 11th time 

The 2020/21 LaLiga Santander title race went down to the final moments of the final day on Saturday, with Atleti visiting Real Valladolid and Real Madrid hosting Villarreal. The two capital city sides were vying for the title, but both fell behind on the day before producing comebacks to earn 2-1 wins. That ensured Atleti narrowly won the championship by two points, with the Rojiblancos presented with the trophy at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday. They’ve now conquered Spain’s top division for an 11th time.  

Champions League qualification: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla will join Atleti 

Coming into the final day, we already knew that Atlético de Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla would be Spain’s four Champions League representatives, but we didn’t know the order. With Barcelona and Sevilla both winning 1-0, against Eibar and Alavés respectively, there was no change and Barça finish third ahead of Sevilla in fourth. The Andalusian club’s haul of 77 points is a club record for them.  

The Europa League duo: Real Sociedad and Real Betis  

Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal were separated by just one point as they entered the final weekend, with fifth and sixth guaranteeing a Europa League spot. Villarreal’s defeat at Real Madrid meant they finished in seventh and that it’s Real Sociedad and Real Betis who’ll be representing Spain in UEFA’s second-tier competition.  

Spain’s first Conference League contestant: Villarreal will make history, unless… 

Seventh place means that Villarreal are the first Spanish side to qualify for UEFA’s new Conference League competition. But, the Yellow Submarine could still qualify for the Champions League if they win this year’s Europa League final on Wednesday night against Manchester United. In that scenario, Spain would have five Champions League teams next year and no Conference League participant.  

The relegation battle: Huesca and Real Valladolid go down with Eibar 

Eibar’s relegation down to LaLiga SmartBank was confirmed in the penultimate round, before Huesca and Real Valladolid failed to get the results they needed in the final round, meaning they are going down to the second tier too. Elche beat Athletic Club 2-0 to avoid the drop on the final day, a huge achievement considering they had come up through the playoffs last year.  

Automatic promotion: Espanyol and RCD Mallorca come straight back up 

Even though there is still a week to go in LaLiga SmartBank, RCD Espanyol and RCD Mallorca have already secured promotion, just a year after they were relegated. Led by new coaches, they’ve been the best two sides all year and will welcome the stars of LaLiga Santander to their stadiums again next season.  

The LaLiga SmartBank playoffs: Five teams fight for the four spots 

The final LaLiga Santander place for the 2021/22 season will be decided in the LaLiga SmartBank playoffs. The teams who finish between third and sixth will fight it out in the playoffs, with CD Leganés, Almería UD, Girona FC and R. Sporting currently in pole position. However, sixth-placed Sporting are level on points with seventh-placed Rayo Vallecano, who could still make it into the playoffs.  

Promotion into professional football: Real Sociedad’s B team make the leap 

The third-tier playoffs were held over the weekend, with Burgos, Amorebieta, Ibiza and Real Sociedad B team coming out on top to reach LaLiga SmartBank. Each of these clubs brings an interesting angle and a unique history to the professional level, with the Real Sociedad youngsters the first reserve team to reach this level since Sevilla B in 2018.  

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The full top strikers list in the recent history of ‘Pichichi’ winners in LaLiga

Messi gets his eighth trophy as the top scorer in LaLiga Santander. A look at the legends who have won LaLiga’s top scorer award in the 21st century. 

Many iconic players have won LaLiga’s top scorer award – often known as the ‘Pichichi’ – during their careers. In recent years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo consistently won it while battling it out for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. But since the Portuguese left Madrid, the ’10’ Culé has skyrocketed in the ‘Pichichi’ historical ranking, being the only one to earn eight trophies as the top scorer in LaLiga Santander. The last one, this season. Behind the Argentine player we find many of the world game’s most iconic players, who have also taken home the award… here are just a few of the best in recent years.  

Lionel Messi 

What more can you say about Messi? The legendary Argentinian already has eight top scorer awards to his name, including the last five. His first came in 2009/10, starting a run of three in four seasons which included a historic fifty-goal haul in 2011/12 and a constant striking duel with Cristiano Ronaldo season after season. Messi has been such a dominant goalscoring force that only one player beyond Cristiano has beaten him to the top scorer gong in the past decade: his former FC Barcelona teammate and close friend Luis Suarez, who scored an incredible 40 goals in 2015/16. 

Cristiano Ronaldo 

When Cristiano left Real Madrid in 2018, his LaLiga goalscoring record stood at an unbelievable 311 goals in just 292 appearances. Limited to just three Pichichi awards but never dropping below 25 goals per season in Spain’s top flight, there have been few goalscorers quite as iconic as Cristiano.  

Raúl 

During his decade and a half as the spearhead of Real Madrid’s attack, Raúl scored goal after goal for Los Blancos. The Spaniard won LaLiga six times, and finished as the league’s top scorer on two occasions, in 1998/99 with 25 goals and then again in 2000/01 with 24 goals.  

Ronaldo Nazário 

Like Raúl, the current Real Valladolid president, Ronaldo Nazário, also won the Pichichi twice in his career, but he did so at two different clubs. In 1996/97 he won it with Barcelona by scoring 34 times that campaign, before he claimed the honour again in 2003/04 with 25 goals, this time in the white of Real Madrid after crossing the El Clasico divide. That was Ronaldo’s most prolific campaign in the Spanish capital.  

Samuel Etoo 

When Samuel Eto’o joined Barcelona from RCD Mallorca in the summer of 2004, he hit the ground running by scoring 24 goals in that first season and just missing out on the Pichichi, which went to Diego Forlán. The following year, however, Eto’o upped his game even further and this time netted 26 times to ensure the award was finally his. His goals helped Barcelona win the LaLiga title in each of those campaigns.  

Ruud van Nistelrooy 

When Ruud van Nistelrooy arrived at Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2006, he touched down in the Spanish capital having previously won the Premier League’s top scorer award. Then, the Dutch striker set his sights on the Spanish equivalent and he did so with an impressive 25 goals in his debut season as Real Madrid won ‘The League of the Comebacks.’ 

Diego Forlán 

Diego Forlán is a two-time Pichichi winner, winning it once with Villarreal and then again with Atlético de Madrid. In his first season in LaLiga, the Uruguyan fired in 25 goals for Villarreal in 2004/05 to pip Eto’o to the honour, netting five goals across the final two matchdays to clinch a memorable goalscoring race. After switching yellow for red and white, Forlan won it again in 2008/09, this time with 32 goals. That made him the first player to win the award with over 30 goals since Ronaldo in 1996/97.   

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The next LaLiga’s stars to watch

A look at up-and-coming players and coaches who had breakout seasons in 2020/21 and look set for a bright future. 

The quality of football on show over the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander season was of the highest level, with the title race, relegation battle and tussle for European positions going right down to the final seconds of the campaign. Lots of young players stood out this term, showing that they have what it takes to be the future stars of the league. Here’s a look at the pick of the bunch, plus some young coaches who look to be going on to great things.  

Bryan Gil (SD Eibar/Sevilla FC) 

One of the sensations of this LaLiga Santander season was 20-year-old Bryan Gil. The winger spent the campaign on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and was the Basque side’s most creative player. Gil finished the year with four goals and three assists, but his impact was even greater than that as he took responsibility in every match – earning a first Spain call-up in the process. Under the coaching of José Luis Mendilibar, Gil learned a lot this term and will put that to use over the coming seasons after he returns to Sevilla. 

Pedri (FC Barcelona) 

Pedri arrived in Barcelona last summer from LaLiga SmartBank side UD Las Palmas and hit the ground running. Touted as a prodigious talent but still perhaps a little young to be a breakout star on arrival, nobody in the Catalan club’s squad played in more LaLiga Santander matches than the 18-year-old Canary Islander, which shows just how much Ronald Koeman trusted him. Lionel Messi placed a lot of confidence in Pedri too, with the Argentine giving the teenager his seal of approval by consistently feeding him the ball. There’s no doubt that Pedri can lead Barça’s midfield for years to come.  

Pau Torres (Villarreal CF) 

This was just Pau Torres’ second full season in LaLiga Santander and he was excellent in Villarreal’s central defence. Still only 24, Torres was so good that he has become a regular Spain international and could well start for La Roja at Euro 2020. Before that, though, the centre-back has the Europa League final with his hometown club, a special occasion to cap off a special season. 

Emerson (Real Betis) 

Real Betis are back in European football, having qualified for the Europa League, and right-back Emerson is a major reason behind this success. The pacey and tricky Brazilian made Real Betis’ right flank his own, contributing in attack with four assists and a goal and performing his defensive duties diligently. The 22-year-old’s rights are shared between Real Betis and Barcelona and he is set to be a star of LaLiga Santander for years to come, whether wearing green and white or blue and red.  

Jules Koundé (Sevilla FC) 

Jules Koundé was one of the best defenders in LaLiga Santander in 2020/21, performing excellently in Sevilla’s back line. The French centre-back is still only 22, but excelled in his second season in Spain as Sevilla finished fourth and even threatened to shake up the title race. Monchi, the Andalusian club’s renowned sporting director, has once again unearthed a world-class talent.  

Unai Simón (Athletic Club) 

Athletic Club goalkeeper Unai Simón is considered by many as the favourite to wear the gloves for Spain at this summer’s European Championship. Even though he’s only 23, the Basque already has 78 LaLiga Santander matches under his belt, including the 37 he played in this year as he helped his team secure the sixth-best defensive record in the league.  

Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad) 

Alexander Isak almost doubled his LaLiga Santander goals tally this year, improving on the nine goals he netted last season by scoring 17 this time around. That made the 21-year-old Swede the sixth-top scorer in the country. With each passing season, Isak is adding experience and centre-forward know-how to his innate technical ability, demonstrating that he has what it takes to move even higher up the scoring charts in years to come.  

Jorge de Frutos (Levante UD) 

Jorge de Frutos didn’t start playing football until he was 16, but the Levante midfielder, who is now 24, has very quickly made a name for himself. His teammates at Levante love him because of the nine assists he served up over the course of this campaign. Only Iago Aspas, Marcos Llorente, Toni Kroos and Yannick Carrasco had more assists this term, so De Frutos is certainly in good company.  

30-12 Granada CF-Valencia correspondiente a la jornada 16 de la Liga Santander (Primera División) disputado en el Estadio Nuevo los Carmenes. En la imagen

Diego Martínez (Granada CF) 

Undoubtedly one of Europe’s brightest up-and-coming coaches. The 40-year-old has worked wonders at Granada over the past few seasons, earning them promotion, securing Europa League qualification and then leading the Andalusian outfit to the quarter-finals of that competition this season, where they eventually fell to finalists Manchester United. It’s no surprise that Martínez is in demand.  

Eduardo Coudet (RC Celta) 

Eduardo Coudet did a great job after being hired by RC Celta – then languishing in the relegation zone – back in November. The Galician club finished eighth, but they actually had the sixth-best record if only looking at the matchdays since the 46-year-old’s appointment. In 2021/22, when he has a pre-season and the chance to lead Celta from Matchday 1, Coudet will hope to take the club back to Europe.  

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