Real Madrid has been the top team on the planet for a while now. Four Champions Leagues in five years backs that claim. Los Blancos won those titles under two different managers. While Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane both deserve credit, it was mainly down to the players.
Madrid boast the world’s best squad, one which is balanced perfectly. From Sergio Ramos’ aggression to Raphael Varane’s poise, Luka Modric’s experience to Mateo Kovacic’s youth, Isco’s guile to Gareth Bale’s explosiveness, Les Merengues have it all.
In the World Cup, the biggest stars are expected to perform. In 2014, Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer all shone brightly.
The European champions lay claim to 15 players in Russia, the second most of any club. Ronaldo and Co are determined to own the spotlight this time around. Real’s roster is replicating club performance on football’s grandest stage.
Here are seven Galacticos excelling in the World Cup.
The Costa Rican has been subject to some harsh criticism over the past year. Whether Keylor Navas deserves Real Madrid’s number one status or not, his shot-stopping ability can’t be questioned. There is a certain invincibility about him.
Just like Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, Navas had an excellent 2014 World Cup. He reproduced that form in Russia. Despite conceding five goals in three games, his head should be held high.
Navas made 11 saves in the group stage, with eight coming against Brazil. He was determined to shut out the Selecao, frustrating Neymar and Co. Unfortunately for Los Ticos’ keeper, quality eventually shone through and they put two past him.
Navas remained an imposing figure, while also displaying maturity and quick reflexes. He was one of Costa Rica’s best World Cup performers. Will such stellar form help the 31-year-old secure Madrid’s number one role next season?
Fresh from his first season as a Real Madrid regular, the French centre-back is leaving no stone unturned in Russia. Raphael Varane even captained Les Bleus in their final group game against Denmark, chosen ahead of more experienced heads such as N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.
Don Limpio is Varane’s nickname, which translates to Mr Clean. It sums him up perfectly. The 25-year-old doesn’t need to make clutch tackles or last-ditch clearances. Instead, he uses anticipation and positioning. Stopping the opposition’s play is where the Frenchman excels. His distribution is also top notch, boasting an 88% passing accuracy.
Varane delivered composed performances in all three group matches, including a man of the match display against Australia. With Samuel Umtiti prone to chaotic tendencies at times, the Madrid defender’s calmness is essential for France’s World Cup hopes.
Brazil’s captain is leading by example in Russia. With Dani Alves sidelined, Selecao’s play has been more centred on the left. Marcelo is thriving. He’s registered five key passes, an 80% tackle success rate, as well as completing 1.3 dribbles per game.
The 30-year-old has bombarded up and down the flank, maintaining width in the final third. That’s allowed Neymar to get more involved, gliding across the pitch. Marcelo’s performance was sublime during the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica. It demonstrated composure, patience and quality.
The Madrid full-back was taken off in Brazil’s last match due to a back injury. He is doubtful for the remainder of the tournament. Although Filipe Luis is an able deputy, Marcelo’s dynamism and charisma will both be missed.
The Brazilian destroyer is among the world’s top defensive midfielders. Like many, Casemiro’s work-rate is often overlooked. Without him, though, Tite’s team wouldn’t have proper structure. They are unbeaten in 22 games with the 26-year-old present. That proves his importance.
Casemiro protects Selecao’s defence, allowing both Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho to push forward. His ability to stop play in between the lines is unparalleled.
Casemiro somehow managed to avoid a booking against Serbia, meaning he’s eligible to feature in the last 16. Having averaged 3.7 tackles, two interceptions and three clearances per game so far in Russia, he will prove vital against Mexico. The Madrid enforcer almost always passes with intent, too. Without him, Brazil won’t win the World Cup.
The Croatian is the best midfielder on the planet. There is no debate left. After performing in both England and Spain, Luka Modric is powering his way to the World Cup’s Golden Ball. He does things others can only dream about. That includes his glorious pass to assist Ante Rebic against Argentina.
Modric performs the simple tasks well. He recycles possession, defends enthusiastically and works hard. The little magician also produces defence-splitting passes in between the lines, as well as perfectly threaded through balls.
In Russia, Modric has already scored twice, averaged 1.7 tackles per game and maintained an 88% passing accuracy. He’s created five chances, too. The guy is simply a genius. Croatia was considered a dark horse before the tournament, but due to the ‘Balkan Cruyff’, they are now among the favourites.
The creative midfielder was expected to have a major role in Spain’s World Cup campaign. Isco did so in the qualifiers under Julen Lopetegui. New boss Fernando Hierro followed suit. The 26-year-old’s performance as an inverted winger has since dazzled everyone.
Isco has had a disco, dancing his way around Portugal, Iran and Morocco. He’s completed 14 dribbles, registered 6 key passes, scored a goal and recorded a 93% passing accuracy. The Spaniard is producing magic. His runs from deep, beating defenders for fun with either dribbling or quick one-twos, have certainly caught the eye.
Isco will be one of Real Madrid’s most important players next campaign.
Surprise, surprise. What, did you not expect to see Cristiano Ronaldo here? Portugal’s talisman scored four times in the group stage. He has rediscovered his 2008 form. The new CR7 is a hybrid of his former and current self. It is a joy to watch.
Ronaldo’s best performance came against Spain. When the pressure was at its highest, he stepped up to score a hat-trick. It wasn’t just his goals, the 33-year-year-old also led by example. His movement off the ball, eagerness to break on the counter and overall link-up play all contributed to the Portuguese earning a crucial point.
As well as averaging over a dribble per game in Russia, Ronaldo has registered three key passes. His goal-scoring ability is key for Portugal to progress beyond the last 16. As things stand, the Madrid attacker is among the front-runners to claim the World Cup’s Golden Boot. Winning 2018 Ballon d’Or is also a real possibility.
Wait for it. James Rodriguez is still technically a Real Madrid player. The Colombian has carried his form from the last World Cup to Russia. During the intervening four years, he’s blossomed even further, developing into a complete midfielder.
Rodriguez has been deployed as a left-sided attacker in Colombia’s 4-2-3-1 system. He provided the much-needed spark in the opening match against Japan before following it with a man of the match performance to beat Poland. The 26-year-old, however, is a doubt to face England in the last 16 after going off injured against Senegal.
Rodriguez’s creativity, composure, set-piece delivery and ability to unlock a defence would all be sorely missed by Los Cafeteros.