Raul is a Real Madrid legend. But what if Atletico Madrid’s academy never shut down and he continued at the club as a youth player?
Here’s KICK‘s thoughts on how things may have then panned out for the La Liga cross-town rivals.
What do you think would have happened?
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What do you make of this week’s ratings?
1. LIONEL MESSI (BARCELONA) – 8.2
The Barcelona icon scored his 500th goal for the club as he netted in the 2-1 victory at Sevilla.
Messi was instrumental in Barca’s crucial win and set-up team-mate Luis suarez for the winner.
The Argentine legend has scored 500 goals in 592 matches for the Nou Camp club, including friendlies – with 469 of those strikes coming in official fixtures.
Messi in 2016:— Leo Messi (@messi10stats) November 7, 2016
Most CHANCES CREATED
Best in everything. The best ever🐐 pic.twitter.com/c9WApCX8WM
2. GARETH BALE (REAL MADRID) – 7.6
The Welsh star celebrated his new Bernabeu contract extension by netting two goals in Real’s home success against Leganes.
Bale scored two in the first-half – ensuring that Zinedine Zidane’s men go into the international break on top of La Liga.
Vamos! Thank you Bernabeu! ⚽️🍂 pic.twitter.com/aA09HFNqb2— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) November 6, 2016
3. SANDRO RAMIREZ (MALAGA) – 7.5
The young Spanish forward hit a vital equalising goal for Malaga, before the team went on to beat Sporting Gijon 3-2 at La Rosaleda.
Ramirez, who previously played for Barcelona, was a constant menace throughout and has been in top form this season for the mid-table outfit.
4. CARLOS VELA (REAL SOCIEDAD) – 7.4
Former Arsenal star Carlos Vela condemned Atletico Madrid to defeat at San Sebastian, as the striker scored one penalty and set-up another in the 2-0 success.
The victory marked Sociedad’s first victory over Atletico since November 2014 as Eusebio Sacristan’s men moved up to sixth in the La Liga table.
5. JAVI ONTIVEROS (MALAGA) – 7.4
The 19-year-old winger made a big impact as Juande Ramos’ Malaguenos team climbed into the top-half of La Liga.
Michael Santos got the winner to see off a spirited Sporting team.
Last week, in this column, I suggested that the Real Sociedad v Atlético Madrid game would either confirm or deny the general theory that this season will continue to present a tougher-than-usual challenge to La Liga’s ‘big three’. Sevilla v Barcelona also presented good credentials, but more of them later. Not wishing to blow my own trumpet, the more specific theory was also put forward in the column that Real Sociedad would be no pushovers (thus proving the general idea). This was despite Atlético’s scary-looking form the previous weekend, dispatching Málaga 4-2 and looking as if they were turning into a side that was more focused on goals than on defence this campaign.
However, Atlético arrived in San Sebastián on the back of a less than convincing showing in midweek in the Champions League – winning in the last minute against Rostov and looking anything but a goal-scoring machine. Nevertheless, Atlético tend to win in Anoeta. Since the Basque club’s return to the top flight, Los Colchoneros (the mattress-makers) had won there five times. There has been little love lost between the clubs over recent years, but the presence of Antoine Griezmann in the visitor’s ranks has softened perspectives a little. Griezmann arrived in San Sebastián at the raw age of 13, when nobody in France was interested. Griezmann owes a lot to the club, and always acknowledges this. The club also got 30 million euros for the transfer, so the benefit was eventually mutual.
The weather had been wonderful in San Sebastian recently, but by Saturday afternoon the rain was hammering down in classic Basque style, and the temperature had dropped alarmingly, forcing me to leave the motorbike in the garage and catch the bus to the other side of town. Pictures of winter thus greeted the Madrid side, but as the gentleman in the bus queue reminded me, Real Sociedad know how to play on soggy pitches. They were also on a decent run of three wins in four matches, and their one defeat (3-2) in Bilbao was more down to their own errors than to the superiority of the opposition. Atlético realised that this was an important game. Next week sees another international break, after which they would entertain Real Madrid at home, and with Barcelona visiting Sevilla the next night, it was a chance to stay close to their white-shirted neighbours and then hope to overtake them by beating them in the Calderón on November 19th.
To cut a medium story short, Real Sociedad played them off the park. The first half was fairly even, and the hosts got lucky when Kevin Gamiero subtly chipped Gero Rulli but saw his shot bounce off the post and trickle along the line – but in the second half Sociedad destroyed Atlético in a display of aggression-possession that had the visitors reeling. Having seen all the previous Atlético victories here, it was surprising to behold. The two goals came via penalties, but they were so obvious that neither of them brought protests from the Atlético players – a rare sight indeed.
Carlos Vela's game by numbers vs. Atletico:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 5, 2016
85% pass accuracy
2 chances created
El Bombardero. pic.twitter.com/e3vbHzh8RN
Atletico lose back to back away games in La Liga for the first time since February 2014.— Spanish Football Pod (@tsf_podcast) November 5, 2016
It doesn’t take much to improve a half-decent team like Real Sociedad, condemned to exist in the minds of La Liga watchers as a middling sort of team – worthy of respect but rarely considered to be serious challengers for anything. Despite this, Sociedad turned up recently in the European league tables of home-grown players, in fifth position, behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Lyon. Sociedad can’t compete with their bigger rivals with regard to the number of players now playing at other clubs, but currently have 16 on their books as opposed to 7 at Real Madrid and Barcelona, for example. Atlético Madrid are nowhere to be seen on this list, and on Saturday, three of the home-grown talents in midfield, Xabi Prieto, Asier Illarramendi and David Zurutuza, completely overwhelmed Koke, Gabi and Saúl, with Yannick Carrasco annulled by another home-grown player, Yuri Berchiche. Yet another of Sociedad’s home-grown pearls, centre-back Iñigo Martinez, has just been re-called to the Spanish squad, but his absence in Anoeta (he was suspended) went unnoticed, with the experienced Mikel Gonzalez (another from the local quarry) stepping in unperturbed. Illarramendi is playing the best football of his career, and should be in the Spanish squad, but playing for Real Sociedad never counts as much as playing for the big three. He has more strings to his bow than Koke, and having failed at Real Madrid is hardly a life sentence. David Zurutuza, however, deserves a special mention.
29 year-old Zurutuza is rarely mentioned by Spanish journalists and barely known by the general public, and yet he is one of La Liga’s best midfielders. The only reason he has never come to prominence is down to his physical fragility, plus his historic tendency to play ten games wonderfully, and then be injured for the next twenty. Dropped last summer by David Moyes for the sin of addressing the boss as ‘David’, by the time he was recalled for the 8th game of the season it was too late. Moyes realised his mistake but was gone soon after. Zurutuza is like Andres Iniesta, only not as consistent. He is impossible to knock off the ball, and can turn in an instant, changing the direction of play at will. When he picks up form and fitness, as he is doing now, there are fewer cleverer players in Europe. It would be interesting if he were to be considered for the national team, at the age of 29. University educated, like Illarramendi he is a quiet soul, not given to media appearances and uninterested in self-promotion. The two have gelled wonderfully, however, and with the wise Xabi Prieto for company on Saturday, they out-thought Atlético to an almost embarrassing extent. Diego Simeone, understanding the problem, pulled Griezmann back into the middle to try to re-gain possession, but it didn’t work. With Carlos Vela returning to form, and the excellent Willian José doing everything right up front, the previously half-decent side are now looking like they can challenge for a European place. Atlético meanwhile, must try to get back their defensive solidity and bounce back against their neighbours.
Real Madrid had little problem in defeating neighbours Leganés 3-0 Sunday lunchtime, but that was more or less expected. Their main ambition was to keep a clean sheet, after the trauma of conceding three in Warsaw in midweek and not managing this feat since the Espanyol game on September 17th. Of rather more interest was Barcelona’s visit to the Pizjuán in Seville, where the home team had won every single game there this season. Barcelona suffered defeat in Manchester in midweek in a truly wonderful game, and everything seemed to suggest that they would struggle in Seville, lending further proof to this year’s more competitive panorama.
The first half went almost as planned, with Sevilla playing at their high-tempo best and taking the lead through Vitolo, after another mistake by Sergi Roberto, not enjoying the best of weeks. The television coverage seemed almost as interested in the VIP glass lounge where the Game of Thrones actors were ensconced, invited by the club for the game. Apparently Daenerys only drank bottled water, and no dragons turned up to disturb the action whilst Sevilla let the visitors off the hook, missing a series of chances and paying the fatal price when Leo Messi equalised on the stroke of half-time. Barcelona, to their great credit, went on to win the game with a goal by Luis Suárez, but it could easily have ended otherwise. As such, the theory was disproved by this game’s result, but backed up in Anoeta. Sevilla, however, looked fluent and intense, and if they can solve their tendency to miss chances, they might be considered title contenders.
They lie 5th, level on points with Atlético and a point shy of Villarreal , who moved up to third with a win over Betis. Villarreal look less convincing this year, but can never be counted out. The international break thus comes at a good time for the top five sides, all immersed in European competition. When action resumes, leaders Real Madrid face an interesting three weeks, with Atlético and Barcelona to visit. If they’re really going to get that league trophy back, the next games should provide some indication of whether they’re really up to the job.