The week of intriguing fixtures brought with the recommencement of the Champions League is set to continue this weekend in the domestic leagues. While an improving Arsenal face a (still) deflated Manchester United, one game is set to dominate the headlines in the rest of the world – the Madrid derby.
This Saturday, Real host Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu for a game that has taken on perhaps even more significance since ‘Atleti’s’ resurgence under the management of Diego Simeone. Simeone led Real’s ‘noisy neighbours’ (though a huge team in their own right) to a first title in almost ten years in 2014, ending the apparently unassailable dominance of Real and Barcelona.
Thanks to Barcelona’s continued progress, largely due to their newly assembled ‘MSN’ (Messi-Suarez-Neymar) frontline, the Catalan club are all but running away with the league this year, in all probability leaving Real and Atletico to battle it out for the honour of second place. But this weekend’s game is unlikely to be a tame affair.
The ‘Colchoneros’ currently sit one point above their larger rivals, who will be desperate to prove that they are unquestionably the best team in the capital.
So, in our honour of ‘El Derbi madrileño’, we’ve sought to put together a combined Real-Atletico eleven, based mostly on performance this year. With enough great players to make a title-contending team three times over, this was no easy task, but here it is …
First, a word on the system. We’ve opted for a somewhat standard 4-2-3-1 formation, with two fullbacks encouraged both to attack and contribute to the defensive work, two deep-lying midfielders, and a quadrant of attacking players. Due to the players we’ve selected, we’ve decided on a pressing game accompanied by a balance of mixed short-long passing possession football and counter-attacks, in order to make use of the excellent passing ability in the team and pace in the attacking midfield and wide positions.
Now for the players.
Atletico have the best defensive record in the league. Simeone’s team have managed to let in just 11 goals in 25 games, an astounding record, particularly when you consider Mauricio Pochettino’s hard-working Tottenham have let in 20 so far this season (the best record in the Premier League).
Hence our combined eleven features predominantly Atleti players in defensive positions. Jan Oblak, the ‘rojiblancos’’ Slovenian goalkeeper, has 16 clean sheets (that’s right, 16) in 25 games, giving him the edge over the – also excellent – Keylor Navas at Real.
In our back four, there are similarly two Atleti players, seasoned professional Diego Godin and Brazilian Felipe Luis, who gets the nod over his compatriot Marcelo due to his defensive capabilities.
The two other defenders are Real club legend Sergio Ramos, at centre back, and Dani Carvajal, at right back, who has managed to get on the team sheet for important games this season ahead of the talented new arrival Danilo.
Central midfield was also a hard choice. In the end we opted for the quicksilver Luka Modric alongside Atleti’s Koke. Modric provides excellent balance to any team with his quick-passing football, vision and defensive effort. Koke has notched up excellent statistics this season, with seven assists so far. The Atletico man is also a solid tackler and can execute a quick-pressing game excellently. It is for these reasons that he only just edged out German international Toni Kroos, who has managed eight assists from a deep-lying midfield position.
On the left wing we have Cristiano Ronaldo, who is enjoying another fine season. Perhaps no other explanation is needed.
We’ve placed Gareth Bale in the ‘number ten’ position and the ever-improving Antoine Griezmann wide-right, as the Welshman has appeared more comfortable since moving into that role this season. Before his injury in January, Bale had scored 13 times and contributed 8 assists in La Liga, many of them from this ‘support striker’ position. Griezmann, like Bale a left-footed player, which allows him to cut inside from the wing, has 12 goals for Atleti in the league. He is also an excellent all-round footballer, with a great touch and passing ability.
Up top we have Karim Benzema, who continues to produce the goods as Real’s main striker, scoring 19 goals in the league this season.
Many big players have been left out of this team, perhaps most notably Kroos, Marcelo, James Rodriguez and French international Raphael Varane, but with so many stellar names to choose from, this was always going to be the case.
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