Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti labelled Vinicius Junior the most decisive player in the world this week — but on Saturday in La Liga he faces another contender, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.
Although the France forward finished a runner-up at the World Cup and Atletico are struggling in fourth place, Griezmann is in sparkling form.
Diego Simeone’s side are four points clear of Real Betis in fifth and their only goal now is to secure Champions League qualification for next season.
Atletico fans have looked on jealously over the past fortnight as European competition resumed without them, after their group stage elimination and failure to even drop into the Europa League.
A win over Madrid would brighten the mood, but the Rojiblancos have not won in the league at the Santiago Bernabeu since 2016.
“We’ve got to win, whatever happens, and end our poor run at their ground,” Griezmann told La Liga.
“We have our objective, and that is to win all our games and then see how that turns out.
“We’ve been working hard and heading in the right direction.”
Griezmann joined Atletico after their 2014 title triumph and moved to Barcelona before they won it again in 2020, meaning he has never won the league.
With Atletico 18 points behind the leaders that will not change this season, but against Madrid he could lay a decisive blow in favour of his former side -– one just as significant as anything he managed in a Barcelona shirt.
The forward scored a brilliant solo goal last weekend to help Atletico earn a narrow 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
“Griezmann is decisive for us,” said Simeone. “When he’s playing well, the team hits another level.”
Griezmann has directly participated in 45 percent of Atletico’s league goals, with seven strikes and seven assists, despite only playing 72 percent of the team’s minutes this season.
During the first few months of the campaign he was only being used for short periods because of a purchase condition in his Barcelona loan contract which Atletico were trying to avoid fulfilling.
Eventually Simeone’s side bought Griezmann outright at a discount and it has paid off handsomely, even though their season as a whole has been bitterly disappointing.
Madrid, by contrast, remain in the Champions League and winger Vinicius played a key role with a brace as they thrashed Liverpool 5-2 at Anfield on Tuesday.
“Today, in my personal opinion, he is the most decisive player in world soccer,” Ancelotti said midweek.
“He doesn’t stop, dribbling, assists, goals. Now he is the most decisive player. I hope he can continue like that.”
The clash with Atletico brings back bad recent memories for Vinicius, after an effigy of the Brazilian winger was hung from a bridge outside Madrid’s training ground before they clashed in the Copa del Rey in January.
Madrid won that game 3-1, with Vinicius scoring in extra-time to seal the triumph.
Los Blancos also beat Atletico 2-1 in La Liga in September, a clash marred by racist chants aimed at Vinicius outside the Metropolitano.
The forward will be without strike partner Rodrygo, and David Alaba is also injured for Madrid, while Atletico will be missing midfielder Rodrigo de Paul.
All eyes will be on Vinicius and Griezmann as the two skilful, creative forwards try to inspire their sides to derby victory.
Player to watch: Justin Kluivert
The Valencia forward, son of former Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert, was bright even as Los Che fell to a 1-0 defeat by Getafe on Monday. They will need his firepower against Real Sociedad on Sunday to start climbing away from the relegation zone.
4 – Rayo Vallecano’s Florian Lejeune is the top scoring defender in the division
10 – Barcelona winger Ferran Torres completed 10 dribbles last weekend, more than any other player in any Liga game this season
20 – Valencia’s points tally after 22 games is the second lowest in the club’s history at this point of the campaign
Elche v Real Betis (2000)
Espanyol v Real Mallorca (1300), Cadiz v Rayo Vallecano (1515), Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid (1730), Valencia v Real Sociedad (2000)
Athletic Bilbao v Girona (1300), Celta Vigo v Real Valladolid (1515), Almeria v Barcelona (1730), Sevilla v Osasuna (2000)
Villarreal v Getafe (2000)