Ranking Real Madrid's Top 5 Players for February 2016
On paper, it was a reasonable month, but in context, it wasn't nearly enough.
For Real Madrid, February was the month in which their title challenge in La Liga fell apart. After a strong but gentle January, Zinedine Zidane's men made a positive start to February with victories over Granada, Athletic Bilbao and Roma—the latter giving them a strong position in their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie—but a stalemate with Malaga and a defeat to Atletico Madrid to end the month essentially ended their domestic campaign.
After a stuttering finish to 2015, Madrid had left themselves no margin for error in 2016; in the second half of this season, they had to be flawless. They haven't been; a less-than-perfect February has paved the way for the season's final months to be tumultuous and volcanic.
But before that unfolds, here we look at Real Madrid's best five players across the last month.
5. Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos was emblematic of Real Madrid for the month of February.
After beginning to look like himself again throughout January, the German made a strong start to February. Against Granada, his crisp passing was at the heart of his side's attacking forays even though Luka Modric grabbed the spotlight, while against Athletic Bilbao, he scored the crucial third goal in a sound performance that gave Madrid breathing space before half-time.
Then in the Champions League against Roma, Kroos' distribution was as smooth as ever—even if some of his defensive positioning was questionable—but after that, like his team, he struggled.
At La Rosaleda, Malaga hunted and pressed him with great success in the first half, while the former Bayern Munich star's sluggish tracking back played a part in Antoine Griezmann's winner in the Madrid derby.
Still, though, over the course of a month, Kroos was one of the steadier Madrid players in a February that contained few outstanding individual displays.
4. Dani Carvajal
Few players in Real Madrid's squad are more reliable than Dani Carvajal, who enjoyed a solid month in February.
Having deservedly won his right-back battle with the defensively flawed Danilo, Carvajal kickstarted his month with a brilliant run and assist for Karim Benzema against Granada, before effectively covering for Marcelo while out of position at left-back against Athletic Bilbao.
When Madrid travelled to the Italian capital to take on Roma, the Spaniard was admittedly lucky to avoid giving away a penalty for a trip on Alessandro Florenzi, but across the 90 minutes, he was the far better of Madrid's full-backs, given the trouble Marcelo had with Mohamed Salah down the opposing flank.
Against both Malaga and Atletico Madrid, Carvajal was solid if unspectacular to cap off a relatively strong month on a personal level.
3. Luka Modric
When Luka Modric produced a stunning and vital strike in the closing minutes against Granada in early February, it seemed to cement the growing feeling that the Croatian had become the centrepiece of Zinedine Zidane's Madrid.
To that point, Modric had been outstanding since the Frenchman's appointment in early January, and in a rejigged midfield, he was reclaiming his role as chief architect. Soon after, another strong display against Athletic Bilbao continued his starring run.
But from there, opponents worked extremely hard to nullify him. In the Champions League, Roma used an extremely mobile front six that at times man-marked Modric to reduce his influence, while the tight packing of the midfield by Malaga and Atletico covered the holes in which Modric likes to work.
After a claiming our top spot in these rankings for January, a quiet end to February sees him slip down two places.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo's evident frustration and critical remarks after Real Madrid's defeat to Atletico have stolen the headlines, but the furore surrounding his post-match quotes has glossed over the fact that Ronaldo was the only Madrid player who looked capable of hurting Atleti on Saturday.
In the opening stages of the contest, the Portuguese forced a save from Jan Oblak with an excellently taken free-kick, before going close twice in the second half—the first time with a powerful shot that flashed just wide with Oblak beaten; the second with a close-range header.
Isolated and burdened with a heavy load, Ronaldo's efforts were commendable given the little help he received. And in doing so, he continued a relatively strong month.
For the month of February, Ronaldo was better than most at Real Madrid.
1. Keylor Navas
Another month, another catalogue of fine moments from Keylor Navas.
To start the month of February, Navas produced a sound performance against Granada and was unfortunate to concede when Youssef El Arabi slipped the ball through his legs after the Costa Rican had rushed off his line smartly.
Next up, Navas was outstanding during the victory over Athletic Bilbao, pulling off a number of saves and closing down Aritz Aduriz with extreme speed after a Toni Kroos error—an act he then replicated just four days later when Roma's Stephan El Shaarawy got in behind Madrid at the Stadio Olimpico.
When Madrid then travelled to Malaga, Navas was his side's finest player as he kept the visitors in the contest during a first-half siege from Javi Gracia's men, before producing another pair of smart saves in the Madrid derby.