Atletico-Real Madrid: Thomas and Casemiro key for derby rivals
The two midfielders have proved to the pillars of their sides leading up to the Madrid derby, with both teams having struggled in their absence.
Their names rarely appear in the headlines and often the main body of their work is not splashed across the back pages with the same regularity as the goals scored or prevented at one end or the other but Casemiro and Thomas have proved their importance to Real Madrid and Atlético this season, more so in their absence than when they have been on the pitch.
Atlético are a completely different beast without the Ghana captain. The lack of organization in the first half against Eibar and the complete inability to read Real Sociedad’s game plan and the drifting of Martin Odegaard between the lines in the defeat at Anoeta both coincided with Thomas not being on the pitch. The 26-year-old has grown into his role at Atlético and has become the glue that holds the whole together, allowing Saúl more freedom of expression and Koke the opportunity to switch positions at will. But he has also become a better distributor of the ball, finding Kieran Trippier with diagonal balls behind the Juventus defence as Atlético came from two goals down in the Champions League and dictated his side’s play in the face of a midfield containing the combined experience of Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira.
Thomas has now attained the status of a player who is noticed far more when he is not there rather than being minutely examined for his every touch when he is. He has become the fulcrum of Diego Simeone’s midfield.
Casemiro Zidane's trusted on-field general
Casemiro has been in that position for some time at Madrid, figuratively and literally. Particularly towards the end of a turbulent last season and at the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign, the Brazilian has been one of the main rowers against the tide. After the 3-0 defeat at PSG, Casemiro said there were no excuses and he led by example in the Sánchez Pizjuán. Zidane’s side find their equilibrium with Casemiro on the pitch, hence the Brazilian's relative lack of rest: he has played all but 30 minutes of Madrid's season so far.
Neither player was present for Atlético’s 7-3 destruction of Madrid in pre-season but the battle for midfield dominance between the two could shape the outcome of the derby on Saturday.
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