La Liga Team of the Week: Atletico and Real Madrid Stars Dominate
La Liga returned after the international break with more exciting games and a few surprising results, the biggest of which was Real Madrid's win over Barcelona in El Clasico. Two of the victorious team make their way into our chosen XI this time out.
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 4-4-2, 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: Juan Carlos, RAY
This wasn't a weekend of many clean sheets. Levante and Sporting Gijon drew 0-0 on Monday night, but apart from those two, there was only a single shutout in La Liga in Jornada 31...and it came for the team with the league's worst defensive record.
Juan Carlos was in goal as Rayo Vallecano kept a reasonably rare clean sheet, just their sixth of the campaign, while his understudy Joel was sent off from the bench just a few minutes into the game.
Rayo's defence wasn't quite as generous with giving up chances as they have been in past games, but Juan Carlos was still called into action to make a few important interventions and keep Getafe out for a vital three points in a 2-0 win.
RB: Juanfran, ATM
Atletico Madrid picked up the biggest win of the weekend and their biggest of the season in La Liga, beating Real Betis 5-1 on Saturday.
There were star performers throughout the side, as the scoreline might suggest, but right-back Juanfran is the first to pick out after an excellent game in both halves of the pitch.
Defensively, he was his usual self: sound, reliable, diligent and aggressive. Going forward, he continually overlapped down the flank, got to the byline for dangerous cut-backs once or twice and even found himself in scoring positions more than once𠀔—and indeed, he found the back of the net for Atleti's third.
CB: Inigo Martinez, RSO
Real Sociedad picked up a fantastic away win on Sunday as they beat Sevilla to move into the top half of the table, ending a recent run of five games without victory.
At the back, it was Inigo Martinez who was their standout player, repelling the Andalucian side's attack with good reading of the game to scamper across and cut out through passes and long balls searching out the pace of Kevin Gameiro.
Martinez isn't always particularly dominant aerially, of course, but he did well in that regard too and made one fantastic tackle to deny Sevilla a clear route to goal.
CB: Enzo Roco, ESP
Espanyol's aggressive young Chilean defender Enzo Roco has really impressed at times this season, just needing some consistency to go with his undoubted defensive acumen.
At the weekend, it was one of his good days; the 23-year-old was on the end of almost everything Malaga could throw at his team, other than a penalty netted just before the break.
Strong in the air and extremely quick to clear first and ask questions later, Roco was effective rather than aesthetic in his defending, which is exactly what Espanyol needed against a dominant opponent.
LB: Dani Castellano, LPA
Dani Castellano started the season at wing-back for Las Palmas, before losing his place under the new manager, Quique Setien, after suffering an injury.
Now back involved and making a first start since early February, he showed why he began the campaign as first choice on that side of the defence, albeit now in a back four instead of five, with a big display against Valencia.
Castellano completely blocked off the wide threat of Rodrigo or Antonio Barragan from deep, with the former being forced inside to have any impact, while he also supported the build-up play of his team from the second line, always making sure his defensive position was covered.
RM: Gareth Bale, RMA
Not too many players give Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba problems for 90 minutes, but Gareth Bale taught the Spaniard a lesson in El Clasico at the weekend.
For pace, power and impact in both halves of the pitch, Bale came out on top as he tracked the runs of Alba, put in a few challenges on him and then tore him to shreds from time to time up the other end of the field.
Bale should have had a goal as he rose above Alba to head in at the far post, only for the left-back to be awarded an extremely fortunate free-kick, and the Welshman was comfortably the best of the six main attacking talents on show between both sides.
CM: Casemiro, RMA
It wasn't all about attack for Real Madrid, of course, and the big difference between the first Clasico of the season and the second was holding midfielder Casemiro.
The Brazilian wasn't flashy, but he got the job done: tackles on the edge of the box, fouls to disrupt play when he could get away with them and a few quick, diagonal passes to open up the game and force Barcelona back into a defensive shape.
A late block inside the box from a shot that may have been goal-bound typified Casemiro's importance.
CM: Koke, ATM
Atletico Madrid have a couple more names to come after their big win, with Koke next on the list thanks to an all-action display in midfield.
He played, as usual, both from the sides and in the centre of midfield as Diego Simeone mixed things up a little, often taking up an offensive role to play in the forwards at will and look to find gaps behind Betis' powerful midfield.
Koke claimed one assist and struck the woodwork himself as Betis failed entirely to shut him down.
LM: Inigo Lekue, ATH
Usually a substitute has to have a dramatic impact in a short space of time to make our team of the week, but Athletic's Inigo Lekue came on after five minutes and had the entire rest of the game to shine.
He certainly did that, too; the versatile 22-year-old has played at full-back and midfield on both sides this year and this time shone from a left-sided attacking role, linking play well and being a danger as he surged into the box.
Lekue scored Athletic's goal in their 1-1 draw with Granada and showed again, as he has done often of late, why he's pushing for a regular starting place. Now we just need to figure out where he'll play most often...
CF: Antoine Griezmann, ATM
An all-Atletico Madrid attack this week, as the Atleti front line outshone the defence for once.
Antoine Griezmann was the comfortable star of the show, running Betis' back line ragged with his ability to drop off, link play in deep areas and then suddenly burst in behind them. His touch in the box was immaculate, and even when he didn't get involved in play, his movement was such that it created space for others.
Griezmann scored twice and set up one of the others in the 5-1 win and is a man right at the top of his game.
CF: Fernando Torres, ATM
In truth, this could have gone either way for the last spot: Fernando Torres was superb for his hour on the pitch, particularly in the first half; Angel Correa, his replacement, was explosive and effective for the last half-hour, notching two assists in the process and almost scoring himself.
We'll give it to Torres, though, whose runs behind and directly at the defence caused havoc in the first 45 minutes, leading to his well-taken goal to open the scoring.
He was involved beyond that in Atletico's second with a brilliant dribble and cross and generally had the sort of game that could easily make the more nostalgic fan hope the club did decide to purchase him permanently at the end of the season.