La Liga Team of the Week: Luka Modric Keeps Real Madrid Title Hopes Alive
Jornada 23 in La Liga was a busy one, with lots of red cards, late action and plenty of goals flying in, keeping us busy as we assessed the top performers for our combined side—this time featuring a number of big-name defensive stars.
For our Team of the Week, we take the best individual displays from Spain's top flight and combine the most impressive player from each position into a viable formation, with our selection process seeing us analyse every game to pick out a star XI from the weekend's fixtures.
This time we've opted for a 3-5-2, with only the best players in each position included, leading, as always, to several tough decisions along the way. In addition to individual form, we take into account such factors as opposition quality and overall contribution to the team's display.
GK: Andres Fernandez, GRA
In goal we have beaten Granada stopper Andres Fernandez, who pulled out another top-drawer performance with several big saves to keep his team in the game against Real Madrid.
Fernandez denied the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric with some magnificent reaction stops, particularly against the former when one-on-one, but he was also impressive with his aerial handling, decision-making when to come off his line and his distribution.
It took a world-class strike to beat him late on in the match, with Real Madrid triumphing 2-1 as a result.
CB: Josema Gimenez, ATM
With three-quarters of Atletico Madrid's defence decimated by suspension, it fell to Josema Gimenez to be the mainstay in the side and lead by example, and he certainly did that.
More aggressive in stepping out of the back line than when playing alongside Diego Godin, Gimenez was a powerful presence in making challenges, followed forwards out into midfield when they dropped to create space and won the ball plenty of times after initial knock-ons or set pieces.
He also scored—as did his partner for the day Saul, who was also largely excellent. However, as Eibar's goal came from a slip by the stand-in defender, it's Gimenez who takes the spot here.
CB: Javier Mascherano, FCB
Top vs. bottom in La Liga should usually be a straightforward affair, but Barcelona were well below their best against Levante and needed no shortage of luck and aggressive defending to keep their clean sheet.
Javier Mascherano was back in form at the heart of the defence, and he was a complete leader—racing into tackles when Levante were on top in the first half, covering behind his fellow defenders and stepping out into the midfield line to recover possession or to initiate counter-attacks.
Barcelona dominated more often after the break and his sprayed passes were accurate and kept the tempo of the game up, but it was his concentration and organisation at the back that were more important this time around.
CB: German Pezzella, BET
Real Betis kept the pressure on Valencia boss Gary Neville with a 1-0 home win over Los Che, with German Pezzella one of the most impressive defenders on show this weekend.
The Argentinian had his hands full with the physicality of Alvaro Negredo and the pace of Denis Cheryshev, coming in off the left flank for Valencia, but he dealt with both in a most assured manner, using his own strength and timing in the challenge to nick in and win the ball countless times.
Pezzella passed out of defence well and was a set-piece threat at times too, with his awareness and aerial dominance over Negredo the most important aspect of his performance.
R: Charly Musonda, BET
A second Betis player in our team this week and it's debutant Charly Musonda, who is on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season.
The 19-year-old Belgian had a quiet opening half-hour as he seemed to lack the stature or confidence to get himself involved in the game, but he then embarked on one winding dribble and his entire match changed.
For the final 10 minutes of the first half and the entirety of the second, he was the best player on the pitch; using great pace to surge into space in possession, Musonda tore the Valencia defence apart with his ability to go both ways, his willingness to take on defenders and try to find through passes.
He was involved in the build-up for the winning goal and his trickery saw Jose Gaya sent off, too.
CM: Koke, ATM
Restored to central midfield after a defensive reshuffle, Koke was excellent at the heart of Atletico Madrid's 3-1 win over Eibar at the weekend, their first victory in five games.
Koke controlled the middle third with a mixture of quick, short passes and an aggressive, tenacious desire to win back the ball when Eibar tried to construct play rather than going direct down the flanks.
His set-piece delivery was on-point, and he claimed two assists from corners—headed home by Gimenez and Saul—as well as creating other shooting chances with his passes from deep into the channels.
Atleti's No. 6 has been gradually improving his game over the last two months, and this performance in the centre was the clearest indication yet that he is returning to his best.
CM: Luka Modric, RMA
Luka Modric was tremendous throughout Real Madrid's game with Granada, but a quirk of footballing fate made it seem that he would be the one to cost his team victory—as he collided with the referee and lost possession in the build-up to Granada's equaliser.
The Croatian ensured that wasn't the case with a spectacular and ferocious top-corner strike with five minutes to go, bettering an earlier, similar effort which was beaten away by Fernandez in goal for Granada.
Aside from his impact in either penalty box, Modric's perpetual movement and metronomic passing ensured Real's tempo stayed at a high level. He worked hard off the ball and was the best player on the pitch.
CM: Ruben Pardo, RSO
Real Sociedad continued Espanyol's dismal recent form as they spanked the Catalan outfit 5-0 at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Monday night.
Central to the clinical performance was Ruben Pardo, back in the centre and opening up Espanyol's defence with ridiculous consistency and efficiency by way of his vision, good first touch and searching passes.
Pardo claimed no less than three assists, one off a set-piece delivery, and it could have been more but for some wayward finishing along the way.
His ability to find space and already map out the runs of his attacking team-mates meant Espanyol had no answer to the creativity on show from La Real.
L: Tono, LEV
Levante were extremely unlucky to lose to Barcelona after a spirited display and arguably should have been the team in front at half-time after a vibrant first 45 minutes—thanks especially to Tono's consistent raids down the left flank.
We're liberally using him as our left-sided player in the 3-5-2, but he played from a more orthodox left-back position for his side this week—not that you'd notice the difference as he continually surged forward, left Ivan Rakitic for dead as he tried to cover for Dani Alves and delivered a stream of balls into the area.
Defensively, Tono did some good work too—up against Lionel Messi, you more or less have to—but he was one of the biggest threats in an impressive and relentless Levante mindset which saw them want to go out and try to attack Barcelona.
CF: Charles, MGA
Malaga's rise up the table continues apace and Charles was once more pivotal to their win, scoring one and assisting another in a rare three-goal haul for the Andalucian side.
Getafe couldn't live with the movement and fast play in the final third from Malaga, and the 3-0 scoreline didn't flatter the home team in Friday night's game.
Charles showed his usual pace and selflessness to open up the defence as he ran the channels and laid on the second goal for Christian Atsu.
He netted the third himself with a low finish on the run, his ninth of the season.
CF: Jonathas, RSO
Our final striker slot goes to Real Sociedad's Jonathas, who is beginning to flourish in the absence of Imanol Agirretxe after a tough start to his career at Anoeta.
The Brazilian netted two in the 5-0 win, leading the line with a powerful display full of running in behind the Espanyol defence to stretch play and seeing him happy to dribble directly at the back line when he could.
Jonathas opened the scoring early on with a lobbed finish past the goalkeeper and ended the night with a thumping close-range volley. Everything in between was just as pleasing to see, though, as he put in a rounded display.