Grading Atletico Madrid's Defenders on Form so Far This Season

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2015

Grading Atletico Madrid's Defenders on Form so Far This Season

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Across 37 games this season, Real Madrid have been kept scoreless just three times. All of those against the same opponent: Atletico Madrid

    It's a reflection of just how excellent this Atleti defence is, with Saturday's clean sheet in the Madrid derby reinforcing how efficient Diego Simeone's men are at stifling football's most prolific attacking force. 

    Of course, that excellence at the back is something we've come to expect from Los Colchoneros, who claimed the 2013-14 La Liga title by conceding just 26 goals in an entire season. 

    In the current campaign, that number, understandably, looks set to increase slightly—Atletico have already conceded 20 goals in the league this season—amid a period of transition in both personnel and approach for Atleti. 

    So how are the club's defenders faring this season?

    Across the following slides, we grade each Atletico defender on form for 2014-15. 

Diego Godin: A+

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Right now, if you were asked to pick one central defender to build a back four around, it would be Diego Godin. 

    Presently, he's the finest centre-back in the game. It's that simple. 

    Anchoring Diego Simeone's formation, the Uruguayan continues to define Atletico Madrid's defensive excellence, using his strength, aerial prowess, anticipation and tenacity to consistently shut out opposing forwards. 

    Need the evidence? Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale haven't scored a goal between them against a Godin-led back four in six attempts this season. Not one. 

    Additionally, his influence was recently highlighted by one of his absences. When Atletico were torn apart on the break by Barcelona in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final clash, Diego Simeone's men sorely missed their chief organiser at the back as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar exposed a back four lacking his leadership. 

    When he plays, Los Colchoneros are infuriatingly difficult to break down for opposing sides. 

Miranda: B

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Last season, Miranda comfortably stood alongside Diego Godin as one of the finest defenders in Europe and helped to form an almost impenetrable pairing at the heart of Atletico Madrid's defence. 

    But the Brazilian's form has slipped a little this season—an issue that hasn't been helped by injury.  

    In November, the 30-year-old suffered a thigh injury while playing for his country against Austria and was forced to watch as Jose Gimenez established himself nicely next to his compatriot, Godin. 

    Both before and after that layoff, Miranda put together mixed runs of form. 

    In a surprising loss to Olympiakos in September, the defender endured a rough night as the Greeks stormed through Atletico's normally robust defence. Less than a month later, Miranda conceded an own-goal in a disastrous afternoon against Valencia. 

    Other underwhelming performances have been seen against Real Sociedad and Barcelona, the second of which saw Miranda and Gimenez cut apart by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. 

    Of course, the veteran centre-back has also enjoyed a number of strong performances—particularly recently against Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid—but last season his grade was comfortably an "A," whereas this season it's slipped to a "B."

Jose Gimenez: A

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    In terms of a statistical-based rating, Jose Gimenez ranks as Atletico Madrid's third best player this season, according to WhoScored.com

    Of course, any statistical measure in football needs to be viewed cautiously—there are so many aspects of the game that are extremely hard to quantify—but it's a nice indication of how influential the 20-year-old has been when given an opportunity this season. 

    Thanks to the injury layoff endured by Miranda, the young Uruguayan was able to form a solid partnership alongside Diego Godin and showcased a maturity well beyond his tender years. 

    Indeed, his performance against Juventus in Turin was one of the most outstanding defensive displays seen anywhere in Europe this season, as he blocked, cleared and intercepted everything that came his way to ensure a clean sheet and top spot in Group A of the Champions League for Atletico. 

    And in the game prior to that, he showed off his ability at the other end by scoring a magnificent goal against Elche. 

    Naturally, there have been some difficult learning experiences for Gimenez as well—two of them, in fact, against Barcelona—but for a defender of his age, he's been truly outstanding for Diego Simeone this season. 

Juanfran: A

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    This might be one of the most incredible statistics in European football this season: Atletico Madrid's Juanfran has six assists in all competitions.

    Six. As a defender. 

    As many as Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and two more than Barcelona's Neymar. 

    That number is a reflection of how potent Juanfran's attacking punch has been down the right flank for Atletico, where he's formed a dynamic understanding with the creative midfielder Arda Turan. 

    Consistently overlapping the Turk and providing width for Atleti's forays forward, the Spaniard has displayed the talents he acquired earlier in his career when he was used primarily as a winger rather than as a right-back. 

    Indeed, few full-backs in the game can rival the precision and incisiveness of his crossing, ensuring Atletico's threat going forward is multi-dimensional. 

    Defensively, Juanfran has been solid all season too, barring a pair of mishaps against Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano. 

    It's why he's now the outstanding right-back option for Vicente del Bosque's Spanish national team. 

Jesus Gamez: C+

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    When moving to the Spanish capital from Malaga last summer, Jesus Gamez would have known opportunities would be few and far between at right-back behind Juanfran. 

    A Spain international and one of Diego Simeone's most trusted performers, the incumbent was never going to face fierce competition from Gamez. 

    For the former Malaga captain, the move to Atletico Madrid was simply a chance to be involved at the elite level and to play a role in the capture of major silverware. 

    With Los Colchoneros enjoying another fine season to date, that's still entirely possible for the Spaniard. But with just six starts all season—three in the Copa del Rey—it's unlikely he'll view his switch as a complete success on a purely personal level. 

    And when given a chance, his displays haven't exactly been convincing. His first start saw him struggle in the 3-1 loss to Valencia, before a pair of underwhelming displays against lowly L'Hospitalet when hoping to replicate Juanfran's attacking game. 

    More recently, Gamez was ineffective when used as a makeshift left-back against Barcelona at the Camp Nou—though that unsuccessful attempt can be attributed more to Diego Simeone than the player who was used out of position. 

Cristian Ansaldi: B+

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Grading Cristian Ansaldi is a little tricky because it's now been more than two months since we last saw him in action. Suffering with a "strain to the lateral collateral ligament of his left knee," according to Marca, the Argentinian hasn't been seen since Atletico Madrid's 2-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna in late November. 

    Prior to his long layoff, however, the on-loan full-back had been Diego Simeone's preferred option on the left side of his defence, despite the €10 million purchase of Guilherme Siqueira last summer. 

    Offering a potent threat going forward with his powerful left boot, Ansaldi also proved himself to be the more reliable of Atleti's two left-backs when defending. A robust tackler and a player whose positional awareness is greater than that of Siqueira's, the 28-year-old enjoyed a sustained run in Simeone's XI prior to his injury. 

    When he returns, the competition between him and his Brazilian counterpart will be fierce. 

Guilherme Siqueira: B-

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    When Cristiano Ronaldo switched sides to attack Guilherme Siqueira during Atletico Madrid's clash with Real Madrid last September, it was a defining point in the Brazilian's season. An extremely rapid one, too—it was just his fourth appearance for the club. 

    He'd been identified as the weak link in Atleti's defence. 

    And Ronaldo wasn't wrong: he quickly drew a penalty from Siqueira. 

    Since that night, the former Granada full-back hasn't been able to completely shrug that perception, mixing impressive displays in attack with moments of sub-par defending. 

    Indeed, it's been a topsy-turvy sort of season for him. In matches against Getafe, Malmo, Athletic Bilbao, Levante and, most recently, Real Madrid, he's been strong; against Real Sociedad he was sent off, against Valencia he struggled, against Eibar he didn't do enough to prevent the hosts' only goal and against Barcelona he wasn't trusted by Diego Simeone, who opted for Jesus Gamez as a makeshift replacement instead. 

    It must be noted that he has gradually improved, and if he can build on his recent performance against Real Madrid, the tussle between the Brazilian and Cristian Ansaldi will be an interesting one to watch for the remainder of the season. 

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