The 2012/13 La Liga season saw Real Madrid's title defence overwhelmed by a devastating Barcelona outfit, with the Catalan giants losing just two matches and going agonisingly close to breaking their rivals' record points tally of 100. Atletico Madrid put up a fight for much of the season but were forced to settle for third, and it is hard to go past the stars of the top three teams as we select the best starting XI from across Spain.
Formation: (a flexible) 4-3-3
GK: Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
The on-loan Chelsea youngster has been by far La Liga's outstanding 'keeper this season. He set a new record for the longest spell without conceding in both home and away games for Atletico. He then secured the 2012/13 "Zamora" award for La Liga's best goalkeeper by conceding less than a goal a game as Champions League qualification was secured. Next came a fantastic point-blank, extra-time save from Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil as Atletico won the Copa del Rey final at their neighbours' Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. And he topped all that by merrily singing a colourful Atletico fans' song about a kangaroo (in perfect Spanish) during the celebrations.
Honourable mentions: Willy Caballero (Malaga) & Andres Fernandes (Osasuna)
RB: Adriano Correia (Barcelona)
A utility player who does not hold down a regular place for his club might seem odd in a Best of the Season XI, but without Adriano, Barcelona might not have won this year's La Liga title. He got five goals in his first 11 Primera Division games, including screamers at key times against Valencia and Atletico Madrid, and filled in surprisingly well as an emergency centre-back in the draw with Madrid at the Camp Nou. Fitness issues limited his own contribution at other times, but his importance -- and persistence in negotiations -- was rewarded when the club agreed to a new four-year contract in May. Meanwhile, perhaps not by coincidence, previous first-team right-back-in-waiting Martin Montoya was facing questions about going on loan to get more playing time next year.
Honourable mentions: Jesus Gamez (Malaga) & Carlos Martinez [Real Sociedad]
CB: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
This was far from a vintage season for central defenders in La Liga, with previous undisputed top dogs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique having their dodgy moments while presumed heirs such as Marc Bartra, Alberto Botia, Andreu Fontas and Victor Ruiz faded from view. Ramos even ended the season as not even the best CB in Madrid's squad. Blancos fans first really knew Varane was special when he kept Leo Messi relatively quiet during January's Copa semi-finals, before heading both Madrid's equaliser late in the Bernabeu first leg, and clincher in the second game at the Camp Nou. From then on, a few shaky moments in Europe aside, the French youngster was fast across the ground, composed on the ball and strong in the tackle. Pepe was so distraught he started to criticise his former mentor Jose Mourinho. And Varane is still only 20 years old.
Honourable mentions: Miranda (Atletico) & Alvaro Gonzalez (Zaragoza)
CB: Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)
Inigo shot to widespread prominence early in 2011/12 when he scored from his own half in a Basque derby against Athletic, then struck a similarly audacious effort in the last minute at Real Betis the following month. He has continued to impress going forward this season -- with four goals and regular accurate long balls to spring pacy txuri-urdin attackers away. More important though has been his development as a defender, powerful in the air and calm on the ground. Real Madrid and Barcelona are both reportedly interested in whisking him away, but the Spanish U-21 international says he is certain to stay and play for La Real in Europe next season.
Honourable mentions: Martin Demichelis (Malaga) & Paulao (Betis)
LB: Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
Full-backs are kept busy in Diego Simeone's Atletico side. Both Filipe and Juanfran must play a full part in keeping the back four tight while also providing width going forward as Arda Turan and Koke tuck in. Of the two former Real Madrid youth teamers, Filipe had -- just -- the better season. He contributed countless crosses and chipped in with three useful goals, before racing back into position to ensure Atleti were not caught on the break. Such displays were rewarded with a call-up into Luis Felipe Scolari's Brazil squad for June's Confederations Cup, where on form he easily deserves to start ahead of Real Madrid's Marcelo.
Honourable mentions: Jeremy Mathieu (Valencia) & Guilherme Siqueira (Granada)
Pivote / CDM: Jeremy Toulalan (Malaga)
Toulalan was one of Manuel Pellegrini's first and best signings as Malaga boss. A total of zero goals and zero assists in 2012/13 might not sound too impressive, but the ex-Lyon man's best work is not supposed to be eye-catching. He was Pellegrini's brains on the pitch, using clever positioning, safe but sure passing and the odd tactical foul to ensure his side kept their shape at all times and punched above their weight in Europe. The regular billing as a "former French international," and grey hair, mean many view Toulalan as a veteran, but he is still only 29 and will likely be a target of the more clever clubs looking to pick bargains from the Malaga wreckage.
Honourable mentions Roberto Trashorras (Rayo) & Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad)
Interior / AM 1: Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)
Ozil was one of the (many) Madrid players to fall out with Mourinho this season, but has said himself that the Portuguese coach's ultra-demanding approach helped him deliver more this season. This was especially evident in front of goal, where the German notched 15 in total for club and country. But also from the leadership shown in key games -- such as when taking a free ahead of Ronaldo at home against Manchester City in the Champions League and running the game against Barcelona in the Copa semi second leg. Mourinho's decisions to maroon the playmaker on the right wing lead directly to Madrid's two most painful results of the season -- the 1-4 Champions League semi-final first leg loss at Borussia Dortmund and the 1-2 Copa del Rey final defeat to Atletico at the Bernabeu.
Honourable mentions: Arda Turan (Atletico) & Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla)
Interior / AM 2 : Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
While Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets have had their ups and downs in the Barcelona midfield this season, Iniesta was brilliant from start to finish. He tops the La Liga stats list with a season best tally of 15 assists, while many, many more interventions lead directly to Barca goals. The Spanish international has also decorated many games with sublime moments of technique, such as the turn past a befuddled Lionel Jallet of PSG in their Champions League quarter-final second leg. That brought a gasp from the Camp Nou fans, but unfortunately the run was not crowned with the finish the skill deserved -- maybe a neat summing up of Barca's eventually underwhelming end to the season.
Honourable mentions: Xabi Prieto (Real Sociedad) & Isco (Malaga)
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Ronaldo began the season unhappy and ended it looking exhausted and with a rumoured back injury. But for the six months in between, he was on fire. The Portugal captain, who turned 28 in February, might be at his peak right now. He managed a phenomenal 55 goals in 55 games for Madrid in 2012/13 and a maybe more surprising 14 assists in all competitions -- showing he has developed a more balanced all-around game in recent seasons. There were also six goals in six games against Barca. Missing out on important team silverware this season will hurt, but finishing the season as the Champions League's top scorer (after four years stuck behind Leo Messi) will likely ease the pain at least a bit.
Honourable mentions: Pizzi (Deportivo) and Jonas (Valencia)
CF: Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid)
Falcao started the season with 17 goals in 11 games, and only slightly let up from there, finishing with a total of 41 in 51 matches as his club qualified for next season's Champions League and his country closed in on qualification for World Cup 2014. The Colombian has thrived within Diego Simeone's Atletico set-up, which was especially designed to keep things tight at the back and provide their number nine with enough chances to win games. Sometimes characterised as "just" a goalscorer, he showed surprising playmaking skills in Atletico's Copa del Rey final win when he dropped deep, dummied Raul Albiol and played a perfect through-ball for strike-partner Diego Costa to score. Hopefully, El Tigre will not now fade from the centre stage at Monaco.
Honourable mentions: Roberto Soldado (Valencia) & Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla)
RW: Leo Messi (Barcelona)
Messi might not like getting shoved from his now customary false-nine position out to the wing, but them's the breaks. Even with the astounding 19 game consecutive scoring streak which saw him notch against every single other La Liga team, this was not a vintage season for the Argentine. Mostly because a hamstring injury, which was perhaps not helped by an eagerness to play whenever possible, limited his contribution down the stretch as Barcelona faltered so badly in the Champions League. The Argentine also failed to beat his personal goal tally in La Liga -- not that 46 in 32 games should be seen as a failure.
Honourable mentions: Joaquin (Malaga) & Piti (Rayo)