La Liga; The title fight
With La Liga now taking shape it's time to review who's up there in the fight for Spanish football's most prized possession.
The top four in La Liga couldn't be much tighter, just four points separate 1st placed Real Madrid and 4th placed suprise package Villarreal.
We will be ranking the top four teams in ten categories;
Each team will gain four points for a 1st place finish in a category, three points for 2nd, two points for 3rd and one point for 4th.
It was a tight battle for top spot, but for his success on the big stage. Rafael Benitez grabs top spot for his success on the big stage, with his honours list including two Europa Leagues and a Champions League he beats out his cross city rival Diego Simeone.
Due to the amazing attack at his disposal Luis Enrique's treble winning debut season is still being scrutinized as to whether his managerial ability really is all that good, meaning he tails off in 3rd. Villarreal's youthful manager Omar Laska props up the table, due to his relative inexperience in professional management.
Barcelona just about clinch top spot ahead of Villarreal. Having conceded only five goals thirteen matches, Marc Bartra has emerged as one of the breakthrough acts of the season. Forming a formidable partnership with fellow countryman, Gerard Pique in front of Chilean keeper, Claudio Barvo. The Yellow Submarine's impressive season has been down to, in no small part, to their rock solid defensive unit of Mateo Musacchio, Victor Ruiz and goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
Real Madrid are 3rd having shipped nine goals, and despite having the joint 4th best backline. Atletico Madrid are in 4th, the only team in the top four to concede goals in double figures, having leaked eleven this season.
The midfield was possibly the hardest choice of all the categories, but for consistency, ability, and variety Villarreal are our top pick. The three man midfield of Laska's system is paramount to the success of his team, with Tomas Pina the anchor who wins the ball reguarly, Manu Trigueros the engine who bombs up and down the pitch and Bruno being the playmaker. They strike the perfect balance between, grit and skill.
Barcelona aren't far behind in 2nd, with a similar layout to Villarreal with their three man midfield of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta acting in similar roles to the aforementioned Pina, Trigueros and Bruno. Real Madrid's galacticos get them into 3rd thanks to their incredible natural ability, ahead of Atletico's workman like engine room.
For this category will be comparing Barcelona and Real Madrid's infamous 'MSN' and 'BBC' triplets with Villarreal's front three of Denis Suarez, Samuel and Alberto Paloschi with Atletico's Fernando Torres, Jackson Martinez and Antoine Griezmann.
Unsurprisingly it is Barcelona who run out winners, thanks to the diversity, quality and chemistry of Lionel Messi, Luis Suare, and Neymar. Each capable of producing magic in his own way. Real Madrid aren't too far off, but there is an element of tension surrounding the trio. Due mainly to the insanely competitive Cristiano Ronaldo.
Villarreal are in 3rd, they don't have anywhere near the star quality, or goalscoring threat of the previous two. But the cohesion between them, especially considering they've never played together before, is almost unmatchable.
Atletico are 4th again, mainly down the on/off form of Fernando Torres, and the underwhelming season from Antoine Griezmann.
Real Madrid's near flawless campaign sees them take 1st in the form category, dropping just nine points all season. Villarreal take 2nd, despite a shaky October, have kept a consistency similar to Real.
Barcelona are 3rd, having seen some recent blips. Atletico are 4th, having managed back to back wins just twice all season.
Barcelona top this category, having won five of their seven home games and are still yet to concede a goal at the Camp Nou. The highlight of their impressive home record was undoubtedly the 8-0 matchday 2 win over Malaga, thanks mainly to a five goal Luis Suarez blitz. Real Madrid are 2nd having dropped the same amount of points (four), however Los Blancos have lost at home. A 1-0 defeat to Granada in September.
Villarreal's record at El Madrigal has suffered after two 1-0 defeats there in October, but four wins from six is still an impressive record. Meaning Atletico are again 4th, having drawn two and lost one of their seven home games at the Vicente Calderon.
Real Madrid are yet to lose on the road, winning five of the seven of their away days. Atletico are 2nd, having won four from six, losing only to Villarreal. Courtesy of an 89th minute header by Alberto Paloschi.
Speaking of the Yellow Submarine, they take 3rd spot. winning four from seven as well as earning a creditable draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou. La Blaugrana finish 4th, winning three of six. Losing 1-0 away to Real Madrid and Sevilla.
It was a close call between Real or Barca for this one, but we think Real's playmakers give them the edge, Benzema, Bale, Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Isco, Kroos, Modric and Kovacic are all capable of producing magic to win matches for Los Blancos.
Barcelona are narrowly behind, of course there is the deadly attack of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, as well as Iniesta, Rakitic, Turan and Aleix Vidal, there is no shortage of players to make sure Barcelona are always a danger.
Atletico are 3rd, thanks to the goalscoring exploits of Jackson Martinez and Antoine Griezmann, as well as the creative talents of Koke and Yannick Carrasco. Villarreal are 4th, with Alberto Paloschi, Manu Trigueros and Samuel the main threats.
This one isn't too difficult to pick, Barcelona get top spot this time thanks to finishing in the top two for the last eight years. Real take 2nd, with the most La Liga titles of every Spanish team (32), but haven't won one since 2012.
Atletico have started to challenge the regular big two and even won La Liga in 2014, Villarreal have never won La Liga, but were runners-up in 2008 under Manuel Pellegrini, who also guided them to 3rd in 2005.
For this category we will be comparing the final ten fixtures from each side to see who faces the proverbial 'easy' teams.
Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid all play each other in March and April. Whereas Atletico's most difficult game is against Athletic Bilbao.
Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid also face tough games against Valencia and Sevilla, the Yellow Submarine and Los Blancos also face Real Sociedad. It's tough to call given three of the four face similar teams in the last 10 games, but we think Atletico have the easier run in. Followed by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal.
Amassing all the points, we predict Barcelona to retain their title in a close battle against Real Madrid. The attacking talents of La Blaugrana should see them through. Los Blancos will push them close, but we see more cohesion in Barcelona than Real.
We predict Villarreal to keep up their scintillating form and grab a Champions League place, like Villarreal, Atletico will face a tough battle for Champions League football. But we expect Diego Simeone's men to make the play-offs and finish 4th.