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Spain's best and worst - The Phil Awards

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Phil Minshull | 09:00 UK time, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Premier League has been on full throttle over the holiday period but as La Liga does not start up again until Saturday it's perhaps a good time to give out the first Phil Awards to acknowledge what's been happening in Spanish football since the start of the season.

Top Team - Can there be any other choice than Barcelona?

With the weight of winning an unprecedented treble last season hanging over them, they haven't crumbled under the pressure. Once again they are top of the league and also in the Spanish Cup and Uefa Champions League. Into the bargain, they won the Fifa Club World Cup for the first time earlier this month.

Perhaps they are not quite as stylish as last season's version of Barca - they have scored 10 goals fewer in La Liga than at the same point last season - but they have looked visibly more solid at the back. In fact, they actually have one more point to their name than they did after 15 games last season and remain unbeaten.

Biggest Overachievers - Real Mallorca, with Deportivo La Coruna close behind them.

The pair are fifth and sixth in La Liga at the moment, generally playing attractive football and operating on a small fraction of the budget of the big clubs. They are a testament to the skills of the respected veteran coaches Gregorio Manzano and Miguel Angel Lotina.

Mallorca have a 100% record at home, with seven wins out of seven, even if their away form has been patchy. Borja Valero, who I've written about in the past, is a midfield star in the making while the central defensive pair of Nunes and Ivan Ramis may be the best two men in the middle of a La Liga back four, with the exception of Barcelona's Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.

Deportivo also have some hugely under-rated players, notably Mexican striker Jose Andres Guardado, who potentially could be one of the revelations of next summer's World Cup, and the "media punta" (playmaker) Juan Rodriguez.

The big issue will be whether either side will be still in contention for a Champions League place in March, historically the time when injuries and suspensions start to take their toll on teams without the depth of the leading four.

Biggest Underachievers: Who else other than Real Madrid, despite the fact that I can already hear the shouts that I'm being Anti-Madrista.

Los Merengues president Florentino Perez spent a staggering €270m on new players during the summer and he, as well as everybody else, might rightly have expected to have got a better return on the money even at this stage in the season.

Not once in the league have all his "galacticos" been firing on all cylinders in the same game.

Cristiano Ronaldo missed seven league games through injury. Kaka, after a promising first few matches, seems to have become a rather ordinary midfielder of late, not helped by injuries. There's also Karim Benzema, of which the view of many Real Madrid fans is "the less said the better".

The Spanish sports newspaper Marca suggested recently that he might be the new Nicolas Anelka rather than a replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy, whose sell-by-date has sadly but very obviously been reached.

Anelka, it should be remembered, signed a seven-year contract on his arrival from Arsenal in 1999 but lasted just one very erratic season marked by falling out with the coaching staff, his team-mates and the fans.

Benzema's two very public prangs in ridiculously expensive cars during the last month have done nothing to diminish the notion that Marca might be right.

Biggest disappointment, although I'm being diplomatic as this Award would have been better called Biggest Disaster or Biggest Debacle.

No, poor old Xerez doesn't get it as nothing was expected from them and it's no surprise that they occupy the bottom spot. If, through some remarkable turn of fate, they had been above the relegation zone, then they might have actually got my Biggest Overachiever Award.

I've also resisted the temptation to go for that perennial Aunt Sally, to use an English turn of phrase, Atletico Madrid although they have hardly covered themselves in glory since August.

The Award actually goes to Real Zaragoza who, despite all their promise and having spruced up their side with the likes of Ikechuckwu Uche (injured in the second game of the season and unlikely to return before April), Peter Luccin and Jermaine Pennant, have managed to lurch from one crisis to another since the start of the season. They have now gone six league games without a win and slithered down the table.

Manchester City's handling of their own recent managerial shake-up looked positively adroit compared to Zaragoza as they sacked Marcelino Garcia as the coach the week before Christmas, with reserve team coach Jose Aurelio Gay taking charge and presiding over the 6-0 thrashing by Real Madrid.

Zaragoza then leaked the news that former coach Victor Munoz was going to take over, only for him to have second thoughts and back out of the deal once terms had been agreed but before pen had been put to paper.

Gay has now been confirmed in the job until the end of the season but few are taking bets he will actually make it that far.

However, English football fans may be intrigued to know that former Spurs midfielder Nayim, who famously broke Arsenal hearts with his stunning last-minute winner over David Seaman's head from 40 metres out in the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup final, was named as Gay's assistant on Sunday.


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