Guillem Balague picks his six players to watch as Atletico Madrid host city rivals Real Madrid this Saturday, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event.
The Madrid derby arrives with both sides locked on 23 points in La Liga, which crucially leaves them eight points behind leaders Barcelona ahead of the weekend’s action.
A Madrid vs R Madrid
November 18, 2017, 7:40pm
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The bragging rights of Madrid are on the line, and the prospect of slipping further away from Barcelona is set to make this an enticing encounter.
Here, Balague selects six players to look out for on Saturday evening…
Atletico MadridJan Oblak
The goalkeeper has made 32 saves in La Liga this season, keeping six clean sheets.
He has also kept 50 clean sheets during his time in La Liga and he is probably the main reason why Atletico are unbeaten so far this term. He is undoubtedly one of the finest goalkeepers in the world at the moment.
The Slovenian cost a mere €16m (£14.3m) from Benfica when he came to Atletico, peanuts in the current market. And while Atletico have not been at their best this season, without Oblak it is fair to say they would be in an even worse position.
Godin has not been at his best this season, although over his time at Atletico has been their most consistent player and very often has not received the worldwide recognition he has deserved.
The defender has featured in eight out of the 11 league games this season but has been making mistakes and is yet to score – in previous campaigns he has always chipped in with vitally important goals.
Atletico are conceding more than ever from set plays, areas Godin and his colleagues used to be excellent at preventing, although it is understood that there have been meetings between him and the other team captains to try to address this situation. It’s a big match and he’s an influential player, so when his form starts to slide you are in trouble.
Last season, Griezmann was considered to be almost on a par with the very best players in the world. Not this time around. Perhaps the constant talk about big-money moves to the Premier League, or even to Barcelona, have unsettled him.
He has only scored three goals this season and is missing what few chances are created for him across what is now a seven-game goal drought. He was replaced by Diego Simeone with 10 minutes left in Atletico’s last match at Deportivo and was clearly not in a good place, with much being made of him turning away from the camera when team photos were being taken pre-match.
The suggestion is that it is his way of saying he is not happy at the club. Simeone is clearly worried by his form and has urged everyone to support him because they need his input if they are to get back on track.
Real MadridCristiano Ronaldo
With just one goal from his previous 48 attempts – the worst strike-rate in Europe so far this season – Ronaldo is going through a bad moment. Goalscoring legend Mario Kempes says that when a striker doesn’t score he tries from impossible angles, becomes over anxious and shoots whenever possible.
Although Ronaldo is still scoring in the Champions League with six goals in four matches, in La Liga he has not been his old self since coming back from a five-match suspension. But if we have learnt anything, though, from years of watching him it’s that you underestimate his influence at your peril, and the Madrid derby at the weekend could well be the perfect occasion for him to rekindle his goalscoring touch.
Maybe another reason for Ronaldo’s drought can be laid at the door of Benzema, whose severe drop in form has undoubtedly affected the Portuguese.
When fit, Benzema has always been a perfect foil for both Cristiano and Gareth Bale due to his ability to drop deep and link up, a quality which has allowed them to exploit the spaces he helped to create. But even when playing at his best he has never exactly been a fan favourite at the Bernabeu – in the past some of the boos and criticism he has received from fans has been totally unjustified.
However, he is clearly going through a bad spell at the moment having scored just twice this season. Against Las Palmas, he once again missed many chances and was substituted for the seventh time this season, despite receiving the backing of Zidane who has blasted those, including Gary Lineker, who have criticised him so strongly.
It has been the midfield performances of Luka Modric that have made Real Madrid tick. Not this season. Both he, and team-mate Toni Kroos, have been poor.
In the past, his temporary lack of form could be seen as a blip. At the age of 32, however, there are some beginning to suggest that it may be time for the changing of the guard in the midfield at the Bernabeu. His world-class passing ability has allowed him to control numerous matches from his spot deep in Zidane’s midfield, but he isn’t showing enough of that skill this season which could be another reason for the club’s lacklustre performances.
His recent clash on the pitch with team-mate Marcelo in the fiasco against Girona would never have occurred in the past and was indicative that he does not seem to be in a particularly happy place at the moment. Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end at Real Madrid for the Croatia star?