Madrid hit form of last season

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

GettyImages / Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesAngel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo both turned in the kind of performances that will give Real Madrid a chance in next Sunday's Clasico.

"That's more like it" was probably the collective reaction to Real Madrid's thumping 5-1 victory over Deportivo at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday night, a performance from Los Blancos more in line with last season's record-breaking title win. Or maybe it felt like a collective sigh of relief as fear amongst Madridistas that their side would struggle to hit the heights of last year was suddenly erased.

While back-to-back victories over Manchester City and Rayo Vallecano had seemingly put Jose Mourinho's men on the road to recovery, the wins were far from comfortable. In contrast, Madrid cruised to victory over a Depor side who weren't exactly short of confidence on arrival in the Spanish capital. Unbeaten in their opening four matches until a suffering defeat against Sevilla last time out, Deportivo also carried the momentum of promotion with them.

Madrid needed this win, not just to put their early-season jitters to bed but to kick on for the rest of the season. They needed it for the Camp Nou and Barcelona next weekend, facing a Clasico albeit eight points back in the table. Three points were important but a five-star performance was crucial and it's just what they got.

Cristiano Ronaldo probably needed his hat-trick too, especially after "sadgate." An easy treble, admittedly, but an effort that saw the Portuguese walk off the pitch with the ball firmly under his arm and with a smile -- yes, a smile -- planted on his face.

Now they just need some consistency, which is going to be extremely hard given the next game is El Clasico in Catalonia.

Part of Los Blancos' struggles in the opening weeks of the campaign has been the failure to name Mourinho's first-choice starting eleven. It was predictable, in a good way, last season. We know Karim Benzema may swap with Gonzalo Higuain (it worked a treat) and we knew Fabio Coentrao would switch with Marcelo at left back, mainly down to form and whoever was the flavour of the month. The rest was straightforward and it was good for the squad.

This year it's not so simple and it seems the Special One himself may yet to decide who exactly his best eleven is -- indecisive even with his back-up eleven, important given his desire to have at least two players for each position.

Momentum and the ability to put out a consistent starting side is something that wasn't helped by Luka Modric and Michael Essien arriving after the start of the season, or the international breaks and double duty during Champions League weeks.

The latter saw changes for the visit of Depor, with Ajax (and probably the trip to Barcelona) firmly in mind. Xabi Alonso rested -- my article on Alonso playing every minute of the season so far put a kiss of death on him starting on Sunday, didn't it? -- and Alvaro Arbeloa was seemingly given a break, with Raphael Varane playing centre back, Sergio Ramos returning to right back and both Luka Modric and Mesut Ozil starting due to Essien's injury. Kaka also found a spot on the bench despite my article claiming he'd no longer be part of Mourinho's plans -- typical, eh?!

Mourinho was king of the tinker men last season, something highlighted by the success of the Benzema and Higuain rotation, and he needs to be again this season. He's certainly got the tools to do it, more so than last season. His tinkering did the job against Depor, and in some style. Scoreline aside, Sami Khedira, dropped for the victory at Rayo, returned and put in a top-drawer performance throughout giving the boss a nice selection headache when Essien returns from injury. Giving Varane more experience and resting Arbeloa also paid off. It was the right match, and the right time, to do it.

Another bright note from the match was the performance of Angel di Maria, a player who when on form is one of the most difficult wide forwards to play against in world football. He was superb for the first part of last season before his injury but had yet to find top gear before Depor's visit. A di Maria firing on all cylinders is certainly someone who'll give the Barca defence problems next weekend -- and Madrid has that on Sunday night's showing. His first goal of the season will do his confidence no harm, either.

This was more like the all-conquering Madrid of last season and that one that, if it turns up week-in week-out, will push Barca all the way in La Liga this season despite its slow start, not to mention making for a thriller in Catalonia next Sunday. Bring it on.

Follow me on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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