Last season’s thrilling title race in La Liga was contested by three clubs, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and their city rivals Real Madrid. Those clubs provided the top five scorers in the division and three of the contenders for the European Golden Boot. Cristiano Ronaldo led the way with thirty one goals thereby clinching the el Pichichi. In second place came Ronaldo’s only equal Lionel Messi, who plundered 28 goals in what for him, was a relatively poor campaign. Just beaten into third place was Diego Costa who scored a remarkable 27 goals. Remarkable for many reasons, most significantly the fact that Atletico didn’t actually score that many goals, and also that Costa had in the previous season scored a comparably modest ten goals. Arsenal new boy, Alexis Sanchez with nineteen and Karim Benzema with seventeen, filled positions four and five respectively.
How will the La Liga scoring charts look at the end of this coming season? Will the same players, with the exception of Sanchez, make up the list or will a new player break the hegemony? Below are the five players who I believe will top the scoring charts in Spain this season.
Despite Ronaldo having his lowest scoring season in four years it was still goal heavy and arguably his most successful. He won the Ballon D’Or, after years of finishing second to great rival Lionel Messi and was also crowned a European Champion. He also continued to set goal scoring records both domestically and in Europe. Indeed, particularly in Europe, Ronaldo appeared to be a man on a mission and finished the Champions League campaign with a record breaking, and frankly, ridiculous 17 goals.
It will be interesting to see how Real’s new signings, and the emergence of Gareth Bale, will impact upon Ronaldo’s goal scoring. On one view, the fact that James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos will now be supplying chances for Ronaldo could result in him scoring even more goals. However, it is more likely that given the greater goal threat across the midfield and attack, Ronaldo will not need to be the one man band that has carried Real in recent seasons.
Ronaldo will be Real’s top scorer this season but whether or not he retains el Pichini depends upon how Barcelona fare under Luis Enrique and whether Messi returns to his best.
Ronaldo’s Welsh team mate at the Bernabeu; Gareth Bale, is likely to push him all the way in the goal scoring stakes. In his first season in Spain, Bale scored 22 goals in all competitions, including an outstanding individual effort in the Copa Del Rey final against their great rivals from Catalonia, and the second goal in the Champions League final.
Having watched Bale in pre-season, it is clear that he has bulked up significantly and looks more powerful than before. He will also be more settled generally and accustomed to his team mates, and surroundings. Bale’s great strength is that he can score goals from anywhere and of every variety and given his ability from free kicks and his excellent movement in the box, another bumper season beckons.
Bale will continue to improve this season and will contribute a significant amount of goals to this new team of Galacticos. It is unlikely that he will overtake Ronaldo in terms of goals scored given that he will usually play on his unfaavoured right side and the fact that Ronaldo is still better in the air, but Gareth Bale will be in the upper echelons of the goal scoring charts this season.
Neymar encountered a difficult first season in La Liga. He scored 15 goals in all competitions which was not a poor return but given how much Barcelona paid for him and the hype and excitement that surrounded his arrival at the Nou Camp, there had been more expected of him. His tendency to disappear from games was also a frustrating feature of his debut season.
Similarly to Bale, Neymar should be more settled in his second season. He will be more aware of the style of football in Spain and of his place in the team. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the injury that he suffered at the World Cup and of the ongoing tax fraud case surrounding his transfer from Santos, have upon his frame of mind and performance. Given the stunning manner in which he was able to carry the Brazilian team under intense expectation, Neymar’s professionalism and ability to deal with any pressure is probably beyond reproach.
Neymar is likely to perform to a much higher standard in the coming season. Question marks still stand over whether Messi and he can both shine in the same team but with a taste of what to expect and a sublime performance in the recent World Cup, Neymar look set to light up La Liga this season.
Lionel Messi scored 41 goals in all competitions last season, in what was his poorest return since the 2008/09 season. That in itself says a lot about just how consistent the player has been for his club over the last five years. Yet last season was indeed a frustrating one for Messi, as Barcelona were beaten to the league title and knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico and overcome by Real in the Copa Del Rey final. He was also beaten to the Ballon D’or and el Pichini and lost his most goals in a Champions League campaign record, to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi has looked somewhat jaded and short of his explosive best for some time now. He performed well in flashes at the World Cup, but did not deserve the Best Player award he received. He has gone from a player who dominated games previously to one who is on the periphery and will provide a couple of game changing moments of magic.
It will be interesting to see how Luis Enrique’s Barcelona team lines up and what role Messi will be assigned. Will he play through the middle, out wide or interchange frequently with Neymar, and indeed Suarez, when the Uruguayan returns? Irrespective of these questions, Messi remains a deadly finisher and a scorer of great goals, both of which mean he and Ronaldo are likely to battle it out for el Pichini.
Mandzukic has been brought in by Diego Simeone as a direct replacement for Chelsea new boy Diego Costa. Although slightly different players, both have a strong physical presence and are good both on the deck and in the air. Despite Costa’s fantastic performance last year, arguably Mandzukic is a more complete player and has been a more consistent performer over the last three to four years.
Atletico have by and large avoided large scale changes to their squad. Although Costa, Courtois and Luis have left, the spine of the team in Godin, Miranda, Gabi and Koke remain in place. Last season, Koke assisted the second most goals in the league after di Maria and crucially for Mandzukic, Atletico have also signed Antoine Griezmann. This talented French attacking midfielder is capable both of scoring goals (as he did sixteen times last season) but also of setting up a significant number of chances for his new Croatian team mate.
It will be extremely difficult for Atlético to replicate their form of last season. However, Los Rojiblancos have signed a talented striker who will ensure that Diego Costa is not sorely missed.
Who do you think will be able to grab the golden boot in La Liga? One of these five or will the top scorer come from out of this group? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball.