The city of Madrid takes centre stage of the footballing universe on Saturday as Real do battle with old foes Atleti in the Champions League final.
Both sides have flexed their respective muscles en route to Milan and in training for the match, and Gareth Bale’s recent comments that no Colchoneros player would get into Los Blancos’ team is sure to have rattled a few cages at the Vicente Calderon.
While Bale does plenty of good work, he has called this one wrong in the eyes of Football Espana, so we’ve given our own take on what a Madrid-Atleti starting XI would look like…
GK: Jan Oblak
Slovenian international Oblak gets the nod over rival Keylor Navas as his performances directly assisted Atleti’s progress, despite conceding seven goals to the Costa Rican’s two.
He was ever-present in goal for Diego Simeone’s side, playing in all 12 European games in 2015-16. He was particularly impressive against both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages, with vital saves and a commanding presence from crosses. A key cog in the Atleti machine.
Veteran full-back Juanfran remains as important to Atleti as ever thanks to being so defensively dependable and a real warrior for his team.
At the back, he has faced the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Thomas Muller this season and displayed the speed and tactical intelligence needed to get the better of all of them.
Atleti’s rearguard operates as a tight unit, and Juanfran has frequently had to play closer to his centre halves, particularly as teams have laid siege to Los Rojiblancos’ goal.
CB: Diego Godin
Much the same as Juanfran, Godin continues to be a vital component of the Atleti project.
Fearless in defence, the Uruguayan led the rearguard action against Barcelona, refusing to allow the Catalans space, constantly making blocks and barking orders at those around him. His willingness to put himself in harm’s way is just the warrior spirit that Simeone craves.
He missed the first leg against Bayern and his absence was felt, despite Atleti’s win, and his return in the away leg was vital in Los Colchoneros overcoming the Germans.
CB: Sergio Ramos
Admittedly, Ramos hasn’t enjoyed his best campaign as an injury disrupted his first half to the season. In fact, the Madrid captain missed three of his side’s Champions League group games, including the match in which they shipped three goals, away at Shakhtar Donetsk.
However, Ramos’ best performances, as they so often are, were saved for the big games. Imperious against Paris Saint-Germain and Roma, the 2-0 blip at Wolfsburg aside, he has typified Madrid’s desire to bring an 11th European cup back to the Santiago Bernabeu.
He was excellent against Manchester City in the semi-finals, dealing with the threat of the Sergio Aguero and co. with a calm authority. His matchup with Antoine Griezmann in the final will be key.
Marcelo has firmly established himself as a key member in Zidane’s side, with his defensive shortcomings continuing to improve.
His strength is still his pace and ability to get forward, and his endurance to support attacks opens up space for the likes of Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to operate.
The Brazilian links play with more authority now, coming inside to receive the ball from central midfield and dictate play from a deeper position, as opposed to just sprinting past opponents.
His defensive game is by no means perfect, although it looks far more rounded and clear under Zidane.
CM: Luka Modric
Luka Modric provides Madrid a constant stream of creativity and the link between attack and defence. In the same vein as Ramos, he also missed three group games, however he also saved his best performances for those that were key, having scored against Shakhtar in the 4-3 win, assisting Marcelo’s goal against Roma and performing strongly against both Wolfsburg and Man City.
The Croatian schemer will be a marked man in the final following his man-of-the-match display at the Calderon in October, with Gabi the most likely man tasked with keeping an eye on the former Tottenham Hotspur man.
CM: Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos has re-established himself as a vital player under Zidane, dispelling potential rumours of a summer move to England.
In Europe, the German has missed just two games this term, showcasing calmness in possession and an excellent tackle. He dictates the rhythm of Los Merengues’ game, alongside the creativity of Modric, and his deliveries from set-pieces is also crucial, particularly given the aerial threat of Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema.
The darling of the Calderon has continued his development with another fine season in Los Colchoneros’ midfield, stepping up his level to take his place amongst the best in Europe.
With quality on the ball, an eye for an assist and goals in him, Koke has also developed a maturity in his game to further maximise his input. Vital for Atleti as they saw off Barca and Munich, the Spaniard plays with passion and drive, plus a real grip on his aggression.
RW: Gareth Bale
Bale’s enduring value to Madrid has been best demonstrated in the closing weeks of the season, in which his goals and inspired performances against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad kept the title race alive until the final day.
His performance in the Champions League has been overshadowed by Ronaldo’s heroics, but his speed and skill will still be a huge threat to Atleti in Milan.
CF: Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann’s performances this season have seen him mentioned in the same breath as Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, and his impact this campaign has merited the praise.
Ever present for Atleti in Europe, with 12 appearances, the Frenchman has, like the No 7 often provided the inspirational spark. His vital goals against both Barcelona and Munich saw Los Rojiblancos progress, and his threat to Real will be very apparent after his La Liga winner at the Bernabeu in February.
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo
Not for the first time, Ronaldo has been the leading light for Real in Europe this season. His 16 goals in 11 appearances indicate he has won games on his own for Los Blancos.
His appetite for finishes and trophies, both domestically and on the continent, shows no signs of slowing down, despite turning 31 earlier this year, and his role on Saturday will be key if Real are ultimately successful.