“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
The legendary Bill Shankly may never have coached in Spain, but even he would have to agree that his famous line probably typified the Madrid Derby more than any other fixture in world football.
Initially seen as a clash between a club consisting of the affluent business class (Real) and one from the working class (Alletico), El Derbi Madrinelo is no longer confined to the Spanish capital, for the entire world watches when the two rivals go head-to-head.
And with a historic first Madrid Derby at Atletico’s swanky new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on the horizon, we take a look at a combined XI from the derby rivals to spark a few debates ahead of Saturday’s clash.
The Statesman has, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, picked the best of the 22 the Spanish giants have to offer:
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
In Jan Oblak, Atletico clearly have the best keeper in the La Liga.
The 24-year-old Slovenian may not be a big name, but he makes important saves week in, week out and is one of the main reasons why the Rojiblancos have one of the best defences in Europe.
Real Madrid man Keylor Navas doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves but Atletico’s custodian is a step above him and has to make the cut.
Left Back: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
It’s hard to believe Marcelo is still only 29, he’s been around at Real for so long it seems (in his 12th season to be precise).
Roberto Carlos’ successor for Brazil and Los Blancos, Marcelo has done quite well and is widely regarded as one of the finest left-backs in the world.
Felipe Luis had briefly threatened to dislodge him from the world’s premier left back slot, but after his Chelsea nightmare, the Brazilian hasn’t truly recovered and his compatriot is a clear winner here.
Centre Back: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
After dominating forwards for over a decade, Sergio Ramos has cemented legendary status at Real Madrid. His late goals (especially in crunch clashes) are already part of footballing lore and you would be hard-pressed to find an active defender who scores more than him.
Once the most expensive Spanish teenager, the now 31-year-old is a regular feature in the FIFA FIFPRO World XI. The fiery Ramos would walk into any side in the world, bar none.
Stefan Savic is a solid centre-back, but it would be preposterous to consider him over the Real Madrid captain.
Centre-back: Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
In his seventh season with the Rojiblancos, Godin epitomises Atletico Madrid’s gritty backs-to-the-wall style.
Rarely does the 31-year-old Uruguyan put a foot wrong and along with Oblak, is the spine of Diego Simeone’s squad.
Big things were expected from Raphael Varane when he made his breakthrough in 2013, but fast forward five years and things haven’t progressed at the pace at which he runs.
A variety of niggling injuries have prevented him from coming anywhere close his immense potential and while he is still young (24), and therefore could eclipse the Uruguayan in the future, it’s hard to justify his inclusion over Godin at the moment.
Right Back: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)
Cruelly sidelined due to a heart problem, Carvajal seems to be on the mend and Real Madrid will be a much-different team with him in the lineup.
Considering he’s a ‘just’ right-back, that may seem strange, but the 25-year-old constantly bombards the flank and adds an extra dimension to Los Blancos’ attack.
Carvajal has weeded out the defensive errors that were prominent in his game early and as a result, he is arguably better in every department than Atletico’s right-back: Juanfran.
Centre Midfield: Casemiro (Real Madrid)
The man who mops up the mess is the defensive midfielder and Real’s Brazilian hardman does the job perfectly.
Not one of the biggest names on the team sheet for sure, but his presence is vital and it’s not a coincidence that since his arrival at the Bernabeu in 2013, Los Blancos have won three UEFA Champions League titles to emerge as the dominant side in Europe.
Atletico captain Gabi essays this role for the Rojiblancos quite well, but Real’s enforcer wins this contest hands-down.
Central Midfield: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
With a combined midfield that boasted the talents of Saul Niguez, Koke from Atletico and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the completion for the final spot in the two-man midfield was immense but Los Blancos’ diminutive Croatian emerges as the standout.
At 32, he may no longer have the legs he once did, but his brain is sharp as ever and nobody can find fault with his distribution. He continues to recycle possession and provide ammunition for Ronaldo and Co. to fire on a systematic basis.
Toni Kroos was a strong contender, especially considering he is in his prime but the German’s ball-winning qualities are a slight notch lower than his teammates and he misses out as a result.
Koke and Saul have bundles of quality, especially the latter, but they are yet to achieve the required consistency their counterparts from cross town have managed the past few years.
Left Wing: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)
Move over Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio is here to wrest your starting spot.
The Welshman remains one of the most exciting players in world football, due to his scintillating bursts of speed on the wing, but injuries have curtailed his progress in Spain far too often.
And Asensio, who seems to have a penchant for scoring golazos, has emerged as Cristiano Ronaldo’s successor since last season.
Take it like this: If Asensio doesn’t nail down a regular starting spot by the end of the 2017-18 season, the 21-year-old will depart Spanish capital and may just break the transfer record held by a certain Brazilian.
Yes, he’s that good and with Bale sidelined indefinitely with another injury, expect Asensio to impress in his absence.
Central Attacking Midfield: Isco (Real Madrid)
Another player to benefit from Bale’s injury problems, although not a like-for-like replacement, is their resident maestro: Isco Alarcon.
Still only 25, Isco has begun to come good on his promise for the last year and a half. With Ronaldo and Asensio in the squad, he may not register an eye-catching personal tally in terms of goals, but his game is so much more than pure statistics.
Gliding past defenders with ease, setting up a teammate for a ‘pre-assist’ is Isco’s forte although he isn’t afraid of letting fly with a howitzer from time to time.
Capable of essaying a variety of roles, Isco would be a value addition to any team and expect him to lit-up Europe this season.
Right Wing: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
Antoine Griezmann is what Cristiano Ronaldo is for Real Madrid, but so much more.
For a club of Atletico’s relatively modest resources, their squad has often been found wanting at the business end of the season.
For Diego Simeone’s side almost-solely rely on Griezmann to fire them to a win each time they play. On many occasions the superlative Frenchman does the job, but as is the case in a team game, they fall short each time he has an off game.
It seems a matter of time before he moves on the greener pastures and it would be hard to begrudge him a move, for while Atletico have made the 1-0 win a recurring theme, every forward yearns of playing for a side that are free-scoring.
Currently in one of the worst droughts of his career (although he did find the back of the net for France in the international break), expect Griezmann to roar back into form sooner rather than later.
Centre Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The reigning Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA Men’s Player winner, Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer, the amount of accolades this man has won is a joke.
Records continue to tumble despite him being on the wrong side of 30 and despite being in a rough patch (by his lofty benchmarks), it would take a brave man to bet on Ronaldo not competing with Barcelona man Lionel Messi for the Pichichi Trophy.
Technically a winger, but for all intents and purposes, Ronaldo is a striker and perhaps the finest to have ever played the game. His legendary status was confirmed long ago, now it seems to be a case of how long can he keep scoring like nobody’s business.