|He may have let in seven more goals than Barcelona's Victor Valdes, but Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas has had more work to do than his international colleague. And while Valdes erred in the recent Clasico, Casillas produced a wonderful save to deny Lionel Messi when Madrid led 1-0. They were unable to hang on to that advantage, but an equally brilliant stop from Manu del Moral on Saturday night gave Real the confidence to go on and secure a comprehensive 6-2 victory at Sevilla. Casillas has kept six clean sheets in the league so far, with 15 conceded in La Liga this term. But his influence has been huge.|
Alvaro ArbeloaReal Madrid
|Barcelona's defence has chopped and changed this season, with midfielders such as Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets and even Thiago filling in at the back at times, but the Catalans look at their most secure when captain Carles Puyol is in the side. Barca's only league defeat came when he was missing and the Spain star was brilliant as Pep Guardiola's men claimed a 3-1 win in the Clasico. In total, Barca have conceded just eight goals in the Primera Division so far - and none at home. Puyol has been, and will be, key. |
Elsewhere, veteran centre-back Sergio Ballesteros has been a revelation for high-flying Levante, still in fourth place after leading La Liga earlier on in the campaign. Ballesteros is 36 but is deceptively quick despite his large frame, and has led from the back for the Valencia-based side this term, with victories over Real Madrid, Villarreal and Sevilla even seeing some call for international recognition for the defender.
At left-back, Jordi Alba has been called up by Spain after a string or stellar showings for Valencia and the defender, who has helped his side to third in the table, looks set to make that place his own at Euro 2012.
And on the other side of Spain's four-man defence could be the ever-reliable Alvaro Arbeloa, who has enjoyed an extended run in the Real Madrid side thanks to the injury to Ricardo Carvalho, which has seen Sergio Ramos switched to the centre of the rearguard. Arbeloa has taken his opportunity and looks comfortable both in defence and linking up with his attacking colleagues. And as Jose Mourinho says: "He never plays badly."
Xabi AlonsoReal Madrid
Cesc Fabregas Barcelona
|Xabi Alonso may not be Madrid's biggest star, but the Spain midfielder is perhaps Mourinho's most important player, controlling the play with a wonderful range of passing which has allowed the capital club to create the game's most-feared counterattacking side. This season, he has been at his brilliant best. |
Xavi is just as important for Barcelona and the 31-year-old has been outstanding again this term, at the heart of his side's possession play from midfield. And he has also scored five league goals, already two more than in the entire 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns.
Even more prolific has been Cesc Fabregas, with the former Arsenal man netting eight goals in 12 league games, including key strikes against Real Madrid and Valencia. Often starting as a false nine, Cesc has played in a number of different positions for the Catalan club this term, but looks at his most dangerous when breaking from deep. And he has given the side an extra dimension this term, which is quite an achievement in itself.
Angel Di MariaReal Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid
|While Barca - as is their way - dominate the midfield, Madrid edge the forward line, in which Valencia's Roberto Soldado is a notable absentee. Soldado would have to play in the centre and there can only be one man for that role: Lionel Messi. The Argentine already has 17 goals in La Liga, with seven assists as well, and has been the catalyst for the Catalans as Pep Guardiola's men pursue Real Madrid at the top of the table. |
Madrid are currently three points clear at the top and much of the merit can be attributed to Angel Di Maria, who has accumulated assists aplenty so far in 2011-12 - a total of 13 in just 14 games. And the Argentine has also contributed four goals, becoming an integral part of Madrid's fantastic forward line.
Cristiano Ronaldo set a new Liga record last term by scoring 40 league goals in the 2010-11 Primera Division campaign. This season, he already has 20 in 16 games, with five assists showing a more generous nature to his play this term. The Portuguese may have been criticised for his below-par Clasico showing, but he remains a huge star in this league and is on course for yet another Pichichi mark.