Both Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid have been fixtures in the very top echelon of world football for years, and as a consequence, some of the world’s finest players have played in this iconic cross-city derby. Here are some players who have really stood out over the past few decades.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, 2009-2018)
Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer, the talismanic Portuguese captain always turned up against Atletico Madrid. He has haunted the Atletico defence time and again as he has notched up a massive 25 goals in 35 games in his career. He has grabbed four hattricks against Los Colchoneros and also scored in Real Madrid’s Champions League final victories against the cross-city rivals. He also came back to toy with the red and whites after his move to Juventus as he netter thrice in a second-leg Champions League encounter to send Diego Simeon’s men crashing out of the UCL in dramatic fashion after Atletico had seized a two-goal advantage in the first leg.
Raúl (Real Madrid, 1994-2010)
He may have been in Atlético de Madrid’s academy as a kid, but Raúl crossed the capital city divide as a teenager and, after finishing his footballing education at Real Madrid, haunted his former team in the derby for over a decade and a half. Until Cristiano Ronaldo came along and pushed up the goal record in the fixture to 22 times, Raúl was the derby’s joint-top scorer along with the legendary Ferenc Puskás with 11 goals. One derby from the 1996/97 season was even named after him. It was labelled ‘La Noche de Raúl’ – ‘The Night of Raúl’, in English – after he scored twice and provided two assists in a 4-1 victory.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, 2009-present)
The French number ‘9’ is one of Real Madrid’s all-time greats: the foreign player with most appearances and the second-top goalscorer in the club’s history. He left his mark on the history of the Madrid Derby with an iconic play in the very last derby played at the Vicente Calderón, in the 2017 Champions League semi-finals (2-1). Real Madrid booked their place in the final after Benzema dribbled past three world-class defenders in Godín, Savić and Giménez in just an inch of space on the byline. An unforgettable moment in the very last European game at Atleti’s iconic long-time home.
Paulo Futre (Atlético de Madrid, 1987-1993 and 1997-1998)
Signed in 1987, Ballon d’Or runner-up Futre became an Atlético legend. The derby seemed to bring out the best in him. Not only did he score in his first Madrid Derby in a 4-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéu, he also scored in the 2-0 victory over Los Blancos in the 1992 Copa del Rey final while wearing the captain’s armband.
Miranda (Atlético de Madrid, 2011-2015)
Atlético de Madrid didn’t win a single derby between 1999 and 2013. Los Colchoneros played 25 games without beating their neighbours before casting away their demons in the 2013 Copa del Rey final, held, appropriately, at the Santiago Bernabéu. In extra time, with the scores deadlocked at 1-1, Atleti centre-back Miranda headed in the winner to immediately become a legend of the capital city derby. He dedicated the goal to his son, who he stated would no longer be teased in school about the 14-year drought!
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, 2005-2021)
Another goal-scoring centre-back, Ramos broke Atleti hearts in Lisbon and in Milan in the Champions League finals these teams contested in 2014 and 2016. In the first, he equalised in stoppage time with a header to force extra time, after which Los Blancos ran out 4-1 winners. Two years later, he opened the scoring in a match that Real Madrid won in a penalty shootout… in which he also scored. In the last final between the two, the 2019/20 Spanish Super Cup, he once again scored the decisive goal in the penalty shootout to hand Real Madrid the title.