Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the much-awaited game between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

The table is starting to shape up in the final quarter of the 2022/23 La Liga season. Barcelona and Real Madrid have pulled clear of the chasing pack, consisting of Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid, and Real Betis. And Los Rojiblancos will look to salvage some pride when they take on Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Real Madrid entered the 2022/23 season as the top dogs of Spanish football. But the reigning La Liga champions have not enjoyed a memorable defence of their title thus far. While they are one of the teams to beat, they are well behind Barcelona in the standings. But Carlo Ancelotti’s men have picked up form in the last few games and beat Liverpool 5-2 this week.

On the other hand, Atletico Madrid will unlikely look back at the 2022/23 season fondly. They finished bottom of their group in the UEFA Champions League while losing 3-1 to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. And with Real Betis just a point behind, Los Rojiblancos might not finish in the top four, either.

So Atletico Madrid will enter Saturday’s game looking to exact revenge from Real Madrid while setting the record straight. Meanwhile, Los Blancos will be desperate to keep pace with Barcelona in the title race. And each team will have a few go-to players who can change the game’s complexion. So The Hard Tackle lists three key players to watch out for this weekend.

Federico Valverde

We start the list with a player who has become a game-changer from different positions. He can be a solid midfielder and a buccaneering attacker, often reprising both roles in the same game. We are, of course, talking about Federico Valverde.

Valverde is one of the most improved players in the world this season. That is remarkable, as he was already among his generation’s best players until the 2022/23 season. But Carlo Ancelotti has had a transformative effect on the Uruguayan international. And he has stepped up his levels since admitting that his form was poor after the World Cup.

Valverde will likely start on the right flank in Rodrygo Goes’s absence. That is anyway a role he reprises in the biggest games, with Ancelotti trusting him enough as a right winger. And the 24-year-old will look to exploit the gaps in the Atletico Madrid defence.

At the same time, Valverde will make a few ghosting runs when the hosts charge forward. And another game-changing performance might compel suitors like Manchester United to launch the offensive for him. For now, the Uruguayan international remains focused on the job at hand with Real Madrid.

Yannick Carrasco

Will Yannick Carrasco make his mark versus Real Madrid? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

The next player on our list is someone whose future at the club level is up in the air. But that has not stopped clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United to show interest in him. We are talking about Yannick Carrasco.

The Belgian international was a pivotal figure when Atletico Madrid won the title a few years ago. But his stock has fallen somewhat since then. And recent reports have claimed that he might face the axe when the Colchoneros embark on a squad overhaul in the summer transfer window. But Carrasco will be a pivotal figure for Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

While much of the focus will be on stopping central players like Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata, the 29-year-old will go under the radar on his flank. And with Dani Carvajal blowing hot and cold this season, Carrasco will be the x-factor for Atletico Madrid.

The Belgian wide man will be direct on the left flank while taking the game to Real Madrid. And Saturday’s clash will likely be his final El Derbi, with Barcelona his likely destination. For now, the 29-year-old will be eager to leave a lasting impact with a game-changing display from the left wing.

Antonio Rudiger

Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior will undoubtedly rise to the occasion, as they so often do for Real Madrid. At the other end, Antoine Griezmann will be eager to stamp his authority at the Bernabeu. But the final player on our list is Antonio Rudiger, whose form has improved recently.

The German international has not been an undisputed first-choice centre-back for Real Madrid this season. And he has not always been the solid defender that saw his stock skyrocket during his Chelsea stint. But Rudiger has gradually improved, especially in the last few weeks.

With David Alaba struggling with fitness issues, Rudiger has pounced on the opportunity. And the 29-year-old is arguably one of the best readers of the game right now. As for how he can change the game on Saturday, the former Chelsea centre-back will be a thorn in Griezmann’s side.

The experienced defender will also be a threat during set-piece situations. In addition, his imposing presence in the Real Madrid box will bail out Thibaut Courtois amid his sloppy form. Expect Rudiger to produce a colossal performance at the heart of the Real Madrid defence.

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