Head 2 Head: Will Gareth Bale or Antoine Griezmann decide the Madrid derby?

Real Madrid are looking for their first LaLiga victory over neighbours Atlético de Madrid since 2016 when they meet at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.

Bragging rights aren’t the only thing up for grabs when the two rivals clash. The home side start the day two points ahead of Los Blancos in second place. A loss for Diego Simeone’s men, which would be their second in a row after defeat against Real Betis last weekend, would see them drop into third.

It’s Santiago Solari’s first Madrid derby and the stakes could not be higher. Back to back wins have lifted the 13-time European Cup winners into a good league position, a defeat would undo all their work and leave them lagging behind.  

While Karim Benzema is the man in form for Real Madrid, having scored six in his last four appearances, he might not be the main man on the day.

The Madrid faithful are hopeful Gareth Bale can perform in a must-not-lose fixture. While Atlético will be hoping Antoine Griezmann can add to the five goals he’s netted since the turn of the year.

Who are they?

Bale took the scenic route on his rise to prominence. Tipped to be a star as a youngster, the Southampton wonderkid made the switch to Tottenham Hotspur as an 18-year-old. He netted three goals in his first four starts for Spurs and it appeared as though the transition from England's second tier to the top flight had been seamless. 

However, injuries stalled his progression and the form of Benoît Assou-Ekotto meant Bale had to settle for a place on the bench for the majority of the 2007/08 campaign. The 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons followed similar patterns. Injuries and inconsistent form meant his Tottenham career was stop-start and there was even talk he'd be moved on. 

He finally announced himself during the 2010/11 campaign. Utilized as a left-winger as opposed to a left-back, Bale tore opposition full-backs apart with his explosive pace and direct nature. The whole of Europe sat up and took notice when he blitzed Inter at the San Siro. 

It was the night he became a superstar

His goal return improved year upon year before he netted 21 in 33 appearances during the 2012/13 campaign. That form was enough to convince Real Madrid to go all in on him and Los Blancos struck a deal worth $132.9 million. He was given the No.11 jersey and he went on to made up one third of the feared BBC partnership (Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo). 

He's lived up to the price-tag. In the six seasons with Real Madrid he's scored 99 goals, including three in four Champions League finals. 

Griezmann's path was a little more straightforward. In 2005, while on trial with Montpellier, Griezmann played in a friendly match against the youth academy of Paris Saint-Germain in Paris. His performance caught the eye of a number of clubs but it was Real Sociedad who made the move for the Frenchman. 

It wasn't until 2 September 2009 that the wide forward made his debut for the Segunda División outfit. He came on as a substitute in the Copa del Rey defeat to Rayo Vallecano. Just a little over three weeks later, Griezmann made his first start and scored his first goal in the victory over Huesca. 

Griezmann hit the ground running for the Basque club and regularly delivered as they were promoted to LaLiga. He was linked to Premier League clubs and it was easy to understand why. He penned a new deal with a $35million release clause and went from strength to strength. He averaged ten goals per season in his first four campaigns in the Spanish top flight. 

Atlético had seen enough to be convinced. They activated his release clause and the LaLiga champions had their man. Griezmann netted 22 league goals in his first season, the 2014/15 campaign, in the Spanish capital. He added 22 the following season. The next two years saw him hit 35 and he's already in double digits this year. 

In each of the four full seasons he's been with Atléti, Griezmann netted 25 or more in all competitions. He's a bonafide goalscorer and a match-winner. 

Style of play

As shown by the Football Whispers' persona radars this season, stylistically, Bale and Greizmann are eerily similar. Perhaps the main difference is that the Welshman takes more shots whereas the World Cup winner is more of a creative force. 

Neither are shy when it comes to shooting. Both create chances for others and supply plenty of crosses. They are the definition of a modern-day wide forward. They have winger-like traits but are eager to get on the scoresheet. 

It's why they've been so successful in recent seasons with many citing them as part of an elite group of wide forwards who deliver on a number of fronts. 

Statistical comparison 

Before getting into the stats, it is worth noting that Griezmann has appeared in 700 more minutes in LaLiga this season. Despite that, the numbers will surprise people. The Frenchman has averaged more goals on a per 90-minute basis (0.47 to 0.37) but Bale dwarfs the Colchoneros forward when it comes to open-play goals. 

However, Griezmann has averaged twice as many assists per 90 this term (0.32 to 0.15). This comes as a surprise with the Real Madrid man averaging more touches in the opposition's penalty area. The fact he's getting into more dangerous positions on a regular basis should, in theory, result in more goals and assists. 

Bale also trumps Griezmann when it comes to successful dribbles meaning he's able to create space, and opportunities, for himself with greater frequency. Perhaps this gives him an edge over his Atléti counterpart in the final third. 

One thing is for sure, both are dangermen. Both can be match-winners and game-changers. The game plan for both teams could well revolve around stopping the players. And that means Saturday's match is not to be missed.


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