With a LaLiga campaign filled with unpredictability having just come to an end, here’s a closer look at just some of the players who have defied all expectations with their standout individual performances this season.
Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla FC)
On arrival at Sevilla last summer, nobody really knew what to expect from Lucas Ocampos. The Argentine winger had shown flashes of skill with previous clubs Marseille, Milan and Monaco but never really delivered consistently. But with Sevilla, Ocampos has completed a stunningly mature first season in La Liga. 14 goals in his first 31 starts is an exceptional record and included excellent strikes in both local derbies against city rivals Real Betis to help make him already a hero with Sevilla supporters.
While playing mostly on the left wing, he has also roamed all across the attacking lined, and even ended a recent victory over Eibar as an emergency goalkeeper, making a crucial save in added time from opposition stopper Marko Dmitrovic. Having turned 25 on July 11th, he has also establishing himself as a regular in the Argentina national team.
Yangel Herrera (Granada CF)
After performing admirably in LaLiga Santander for Huesca during 2018-19, Venezuela international Yangel Herrera has been a revelation as a holding midfielder for this season’s surprise package Granada. The now 22-year-old, who is on loan from Manchester City, came onto many radars with a commanding performance in Granada’s 2-0 La Liga victory over champions Barcelona back in September, while he also impressed and set up a goal in their close 1-2 defeat to Real Madrid during the final week of the season.
Well taken strikes against RC Celta and D. Alaves showcased his attacking quality, but Herrera’s main strength has been his ability to control the centre of the park, both with his impressive range of passing and his imposing physical presence. Granada have had many excellent performers as Diego Martinez’s newly promoted side spent most of the season in the top half and secured a first ever Europa League qualification. Herrera has been foremost among them, and many will be watching his next steps very closely.
Marcos Llorente (Atletico de Madrid)
Few players have had quite as big a mid-season transformation as Atletico de Madrid’s Marcos Llorente, who for the first half of the campaign was a back-up holding midfielder, until emerging as a super effective and creative supporter attacker. After arriving from city rivals Real Madrid last summer, Llorente was slowly introduced by rojiblanco coach Diego Simeone, and was taken off at half-time in his first two LaLiga starts for his new club. Injuries saw him pushed further up the pitch early in 2020, however, with immediate results.
His first-ever LaLiga goal came in a 2-2 at Valencia in February, and he soon added two more in the Champions League as Atleti eliminated holders Liverpool. Following the COVID-19 break, with confidence and creative juices flowing, he has been one of Atletico’s most important performers, playing a role in five goals in eight games as Simeone’s side secured third spot in the final LaLiga Santander standings.
Mohammed Salisu (Real Valladolid)
For someone who only made his LaLiga debut last August, Real Valladolid centre-back Mohamed Salisu has had a phenomenal 2019-20. The 21-year-old Ghana international’s commanding performances have been key to the defensive solidity which saw Valladolid stay well clear of the relegation battle all season. Quickly becoming one of the first names on coach Sergio Gonzalez’s team sheet, Salisu was fast across the ground and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He was also strong in the tackle but specialised in winning the ball cleanly without giving away unnecessary frees.
A first LaLiga goal came in October’s 2-0 victory at home to Eibar may have been from only two yards out, but it clinched a crucial three points for his team. Such performances have brought attention from other clubs, both in LaLiga and outside, but Valladolid supporters will be hoping to keep the fast-improving defender for another season at least.
Santi Cazorla (Villarreal CF)
Among the most romantic storylines of this LaLiga Santander season has been the return of Santi Cazorla’s smile. When former Spain international Cazorla returned to his first-ever club Villarreal a couple of years back, his career was in danger of ending due to a serious ankle injury. But the now 35-year-old has had a triumphant return to form in 2019-20, scoring 11 goals and providing nine assists as the Yellow Submarine rose again and qualified for the Europa League next season.
The stats do not tell the full story however, as Cazorla’s influence on his team’s play has been immense, while the technical quality of his cushioned volley assist for teammate Gerard Moreno’s goal against Valencia in late June will live long in the memory. His final game against Eibar on the last day of the season was an emotional occasion, but hopefully Cazorla will be back in La Liga soon enough.