Grading Atletico vs. Real Madrid Champions League Final Players Head-to-Head
Continuing B/R's buildup to the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, we've taken a look at each position on the field and asked who wins the head-to-head positional battles.
That creates a number of interesting matchups, pitting Iker Casillas, the (master) against Thibaut Courtois (the apprentice), two Brazilian left-backs against one another and Karim Benzema against Diego Costa.
Real Madrid are expected to play a 4-3-3, so matching them up against Atletico's 4-4-2 can be a little difficult on paper. In this respect, we've shaped los Blancos as they appear when countering from deep (4-4-2-esque), with Cristiano Ronaldo off the front man, Angel Di Maria on the left and Gareth Bale on the right.
GK: Iker Casillas vs. Thibaut Courtois
Iker Casillas has been playing excellent football in the UEFA Champions League this season, making stunning saves against most opponents they've faced.
In particular, he prevented Schalke from getting back into the round of 16 match at the Veltins Arena with an unreal point-blank stop right after Real Madrid had opened the scoring.
Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, has been unable to focus solely on his football like Casillas has due to the ongoing questions surrounding his immediate future.
So long as nothing is clouding the mind of the 21-year-old he'll be on top form for Diego Simeone as usual, making eye-catching, one-handed saves and claiming crosses with his lanky frame.
They've both had mammoth seasons, so this one's a very close call.
The Pick: Thibaut Courtois
RB: Dani Carvajal vs. Juanfran
Dani Carvajal returned to the Real Madrid setup last summer having spent an educational year out with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
He immediately displaced Alvaro Arbeloa and has continued to grow as a player this season, honing his defensive craft whilst retaining his ability to be decisive in the final third.
His battle here with Atletico Madrid's Juanfran replicates the one they're having in the Spanish national setup but right now the Colchoneros man looks the favourite.
He's been the consensus best right-back in La Liga this season and has been vital to the club's efforts in defence.
The Pick: Juanfran
CB: Pepe vs. Diego Godin
This is arguably the toughest individual battle on the pitch, and that speaks volumes for the quality of centre-back play on show in Madrid this season.
Pepe has recovered from a few dodgy years in which he lost his way and lost his place in the side to Raphael Varane. Since the turn of the year he's been absolutely incredible.
But nothing he was able to do this season surpassed the gargantuan efforts of Diego Godin. The Uruguayan has been one of Atletico's brightest stars and the defensive rock they draw inspiration from.
No slight on Pepe, who's been marvelous, but Godin takes the title.
The Pick: Diego Godin
CB: Sergio Ramos vs. Miranda
Another tough centre-back battle between two defenders who are hard as nails.
Sergio Ramos has been spectacular under Carlo Ancelotti, and aside from the goalscoring exploits that more or less secured Real Madrid's passage into the final at the expense of Bayern Munich, he has defended heroically all season.
Miranda has been awesome alongside Diego Godin this season, too, with his ability to clear the ball 25 yards or more with his head impressing immensely.
But while the Brazilian is good, he's not the commander or the threat Ramos is. The Spaniard gets the nod here.
The Pick: Sergio Ramos
LB: Marcelo vs. Filipe Luis
Marcelo's injury scare late this season had both Real Madrid and Brazil worried, as while Fabio Coentrao and Maxwell are able deputies, no one can replace the attacking flavour Marcelo boasts.
He's key to buildup on the left, and his runs enable Cristiano Ronaldo to find more space drifting inside as the Brazilian attracts defenders with his surges forward.
Filipe Luis is close to the opposite, boasting a defend-first mentality that ties in perfectly with Diego Simeone's style. He's great at man-marking, stops crosses from the byline and attacks with a bit of flair when asked to, as well.
It's a Brazilian battle, and we're tipping the one who didn't make the World Cup squad.
The Pick: Filipe Luis
CM: Asier Illarramendi vs. Gabi
Xabi Alonso is suspended for the final after picking up a booking in the semifinal second leg, and the man who replaces him is currently something of a mystery.
Sami Khedira is building fitness and looks an option, while Pepe could also step into defensive midfield and anchor it with Raphael Varane behind him. The most likely scenario, though, is Asier Illarramendi—a natural fit at sole anchor in a 4-3-3—coming in to pick up the slack.
Whoever takes Alonso's place will have a tough task, but the feeling is whoever comes in doesn't have a patch on captain fantastic Gabi.
Atletico Madrid have been phenomenal in the heart of midfield and it's Gabi who embodies Diego Simeone on the pitch.
The Pick: Gabi
CM: Luka Modric vs. Tiago
It's unclear who will partner Gabi in midfield, as Diego Simeone has flitted between Mario Suarez and Tiago all season long.
But, as with the Asier Illarramendi debate, the discussion becomes superfluous given that neither can oust Luka Modric in the head-to-head.
The Croatian has been one of La Liga's best central midfielders this season and has enjoyed a career-campaign, operating as a creative force in Carlo Ancelotti's 4-3-3 midfield.
He can't break between the lines—that's what colleague Angel Di Maria is for—but he's proven world-class in ball retention, creating chances and tracking back.
The Pick: Luka Modric
RM: Gareth Bale vs. Arda Turan
Arda Turan limped off at the Camp Nou last weekend just minutes after Diego Costa was carried off in tears; Atletico Madrid fans feared the worst, but it appears the Turk will recover in time to play.
He's been phenomenal off the flank for los Colchoneros this season, providing ingenuity, spark, flair and hard running. He's a creative talent, yet he's also bought into Diego Simeone's hard-nosed style of play.
But as good as he is, he can't rival the season Gareth Bale has had at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With 20 goals and 16 assists, per WhoScored.com, in UEFA Champions League and La Liga play, he's proven worth the astronomical fee and settled extremely well opposite Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Pick: Gareth Bale
LM: Angel Di Maria vs. Koke
Both Angel Di Maria and Koke have had breakout seasons in their own ways: the former has reinvented (or back-dated) his game as a central midfielder, while the latter has exploded into our consciousness by rapidly progressing into a near-world-class outlet.
It makes the decision between them very difficult, but the Argentine just gets the nod thanks to his ability to change games while carrying the ball between the lines.
Koke has impressed all across Diego Simeone's midfield, but it's important not to confuse his incredible progress (and therefore hype) with the idea of an established star.
Koke's close, but Di Maria pips him for now.
The Pick: Angel Di Maria
CF: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Raul Garcia
There's only one winner here, right?
Raul Garcia has had a season to remember, scoring a personal best tally of goals, playing all over the pitch and providing matchup concerns for defences Europe-wide.
His pliability and work-rate have made him a reliable asset to Diego Simeone, but when matching up against Cristiano Ronaldo, there's no contest.
The Portuguese speedster has had an unbelievable campaign and will be looking to add to his Champions League tally of 16—yes, 16!—goals in the final.
The Pick: Cristiano Ronaldo
ST: Karim Benzema vs. David Villa
Karim Benzema is carrying a slight knock that's hampering him, per UEFA.com, but he's expected to start the final up front.
In Real Madrid's 4-3-3 he's the focal point of the attack, but rather than score the majority of the goals, he drops in and allows Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to play off him.
His tally of five goals and five assists in the Champions League, per WhoScored.com, outlines his impressive impact in the final third.
David Villa, on the other hand, has been secondary to the genius that is Diego Costa this season. The Brazilian-born Spaniard is doing everything he can to play, including the use of placenta with a miracle doctor, per The Daily Mail, but he's a serious doubt still.
If Costa plays he wins the head-to-head, but with that an unlikely event, Benzema gets the nod.
The Pick: Karim Benzema