Creating a Combined Barcelona and Atletico Madrid XI

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2017

Creating a Combined Barcelona and Atletico Madrid XI

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    Real Madrid might be leading the table in La Liga this season, but for the last four years, they haven't had a sniff of the title—instead, it has gone to each of their two biggest rivals, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

    The Catalan outfit have claimed three titles in that time, while Atleti have won just the one. However, the two sides have had fantastic battles of their own over that four-year period, including Los Rojiblancos sealing the 2013-14 title at the Camp Nou and a tremendous two-legged affair in last season's Champions League.

    They meet again on Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, and both teams will field strong sides as they go for silverware in the cup.

    Here, we assess both sides to create an ultimate Barca-Atleti XI, formed with only the players available to them on the night—so there is no first-choice goalkeeper for either team, with Jan Oblak injured and Marc-Andre ter Stegen rested.

GK: Jasper Cillessen, FCB

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    Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen isn't always the most assured at dealing with the ball when it comes high into his box, but he does have plenty of traits that make him an able deputy for Ter Stegen.

    Notably, Cillessen is excellent in one-on-one situations and is calm with the ball at his feet. He also has good reflexes—standard practice for a 'keeper in a big team, but it's still a skill that helps negate his lack of conviction at dealing with crosses and set pieces.

    He gets the nod ahead of Miguel Angel Moya, who is standing in for the injured (and superb) Oblak for Atletico.

RB: Juanfran, ATM

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    It's a toss-up who will play at right-back for either side on Wednesday, but the suspicion is that Barca will go for Aleix Vidal over Sergi Roberto, while Juanfran will retain his usual spot for Atleti.

    One of the most reliable and dependable players for the team in the Diego Simeone era, Juanfran hasn't quite been at his best this season—like most of the team—but he is a relentless worker nonetheless and can be almost unbeatable defensively when on song.

    He'll support the attack from deep and hit the byline when it's safe to do so, and he is also a committed performer.

CB: Gerard Pique, FCB

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    In previous seasons, we could easily have listed Atletico's entire back four in any combined team, but their defence has been switched around a lot this year compared to Simeone's usual standards. They still don't concede too many, but it isn't as impregnable as last term.

    By contrast, Gerard Pique continues to go from strength to strength with Barcelona. He's having another impressive campaign, mixing his imperious defensive work with his trademark willingness to play from deep, surge into midfield and be one of the most vocal parts of the team.

CB: Diego Godin, ATM

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    Perhaps the world's best central defender for a spell, Diego Godin is still near the top of his game and a critical piece of the puzzle for Atletico Madrid.

    Turning 31 on February 16, he still has several years of his aggressive, no-nonsense approach to protecting his team's goal ahead of him at the highest level.

    Godin can overstep the mark with his determination to win and was sent off against Barcelona last season for that reason, but every manager would love a leader in his style in their team.

    The Uruguay international is aerially dominant, positionally aware and prepared to put his body on the line at any given moment.

LB: Filipe Luis, ATM

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    Left-back is perhaps the most contentious position in the team. Jordi Alba and Filipe Luis are both superb, but we'll nudge the Brazilian ahead of his Spanish counterpart for two reasons.

    First, his consistency is above that of Alba, particularly this season, and second, he's less reliant on his pace for his defensive work.

    While the Barcelona man is about recovery speed, Filipe knows the role, knows his position and is a strong competitor with his tackling and heading.

    Going forward, they approach the game differently but in equally effective manners.

CM: Javier Mascherano, FCB

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    With no Andres Iniesta or Sergio Busquets, it's probable that Javier Mascherano will reprise his holding-midfielder role for Barcelona—which makes him a guarantee for our team as one of the world's finest.

    Aggressive and determined, Mascherano wins the ball back for his team with surprising acceleration, absolute surety and a relentless, unstoppable force of mind.

    He won't be the most cut-throat of players with his passing from deep, but in a game against top rivals, stopping them scoring will almost be his job alone.

CM: Koke, ATM

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    The second central-midfield slot is open for debate. Gabi, Saul, Ivan Rakitic or Arda Turan could all be worthwhile nominations, but Atletico's Koke possesses parts of those players' games wrapped up in his own abilities.

    A forceful player who can create or destroy in equal measure, his work rate is only bettered by his vision and execution of passes, with set-piece delivery thrown in for good measure.

    He's one of Atletico's few players who, on a purely technical level, can claim to be the equal of Barcelona's midfielders.

RW: Lionel Messi, FCB

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    It doesn't matter what the combined team is or which teams are being merged: if Lionel Messi is available, he goes in.

    Messi has often been a pivotal influence in deciding the outcome of matches between Atleti and Barca, with his incredible footwork and dead-eye finishing just as much a standard bearer as his free-kicks or through passes have been.

    Even if Yannick Carrasco or Nicolas Gaitan hadn't been somewhat inconsistent this term, Messi would still be streets ahead of both.

LW: Neymar, FCB

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    On the opposite flank, there's a case for including a third midfielder instead of Neymar, but the boy from Brazil has been in pleasing form recently—but without having a regular pair of shooting boots on.

    His buildup work, dribbling skills and capacity to create space for others are all important aspects of his game and very much part of Barcelona's game plan, even when it's not Neymar himself who finishes off the move.

    Don't bet against him finding the net in any big game, though.

CF: Antoine Griezmann, ATM

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    Breaking up the Barcelona monopoly on the front line is Atleti's sought-after forward Antoine Griezmann, who is capable of playing through the middle or out wide. He can also attack with equal effectiveness from either position.

    His acceleration away from defenders is met with great close control of the ball, an ability to strike from any range and the selflessness to do all the off-the-ball work required of a team that won't dominate possession.

    Griezmann is the biggest outlet for Atletico, but he's also the biggest threat in the final third, so using him in the right positions is key if they want to progress to the final.

CF: Luis Suarez, FCB

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    The final piece of our team is the man perhaps most likely to settle the two-legged semi-final, thanks to his incredible goal record, his penchant for turning up in big games and his form against Atletico.

    Luis Suarez is part poacher, part playmaker and part front-line aggressor for Barcelona—it's the perfect combination to exploit spaces created for him and allow Neymar and Messi to rove into the areas he departs.

    The Uruguayan scored both goals when Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final first leg last season; it was Atletico who turned things around in the second leg, though, so there's still plenty to look forward to even if Suarez and Co. are on fire at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.