Real Madrid asserted fresh authority over the capital city derby in a crushing 3-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid -- "a fist on the table" in the local vernacular.
Los Blancos were far from being bullied by Atletico, who had won back-to-back matches at the Bernabeu prior to Wednesday's Copa del Rey semifinal first leg and tops La Liga on the basis of battering opponents into submission.
Carlo Ancelotti said before this encounter that he would find a different way to play Atletico, whom he described as a worthy winner of September's league clash in the feudal home of the white half of Madrid. But it was not so much what the Italian laid out in his tactical instructions on the night as a culmination of his work over the past six months that thoroughly undid his adversary, Diego Simeone.
Ancelotti speaks consistently of balance and Real has found it in abundance in his 4-3-3 formation, and at the feet of Luka Modric in particular. The Croatian has adapted to his role within the team to the extent that it is easy to forget he ever played in a more advanced position. Angel di Maria, too, has been a revelation on the left of midfield after being redeployed to accommodate Gareth Bale.
The omens were foreboding throughout the day as bad news piled up for Real Madrid. First, the LFP disciplinary committee slapped Cristiano Ronaldo with an excessive three-match Liga ban for his altercation with Athletic Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegi at the weekend, and then Bale was ruled out of the match with a flare-up of his calf problem.
Simeone, meanwhile, was able to afford himself the luxury of leaving combative Portuguese midfielder Tiago on the bench as Diego Ribas slotted into the forward line of a 4-2-3-1 imposed on Atletico by the absence of the injured David Villa, with Gabi and creator Koke at the base of midfield.
If it was an attempt to control possession, it failed; the former Wolfsburg player was replaced by Cebolla Rodriguez at half-time as Simeone tried to shake things up with a more direct approach. Even then, Atletico could not impose itself on the game at all and was largely unrecognisable from the side that has held Barcelona three times and beaten Real already this season.
The build-up may have been overshadowed by off-field events but the spotlight fell squarely on Iker Casillas in terms of the match. The Real keeper, in cup competitions at least for now, had not been on the losing side against Atletico since 1999, and even then he was a second-half substitute in that match. The Real captain had not conceded a single goal in the competition this season and rarely looked like doing so on Wednesday. Arda Turan warmed his hands with a powerful header but Modric made the most important save of the evening when he cleared Diego Godin's header off the line when Real had a 2-0 lead.
Had that gone in, the tie might have been kept alive, but lady luck had already touched up her lipstick and flounced from the Bernabeu by then as far as Atletico's chances are concerned. Atletico's poor fortunes began with Pepe's opening strike, which was heading well wide of Thibaut Courtois' goal but hit Emilio Insua to wrong-foot the Belgian No. 1. Then, a possible penalty claim against Alvaro Arbeloa went unnoticed.
Pepe's primary task of the evening was achieved on 60 minutes: The Portuguese defender had spent the first half prodding Diego Costa with a stick, and surely enough the Brazilian-Spaniard eventually reacted to a Di Maria foul, inviting a yellow card and a suspension for the return leg next week. There is little doubt that Costa is an extraordinary player, but he is also far too easy to rile. He may epitomize the fire that burns in his side's performances, but homo atleticus will not be around to spark a comeback at the Calderon.
They say necessity is the mother of all invention, but the good senora Rodriguez Ruiz was responsible for Real's current creative outlet. Jese had another spectacular game, adding a goal to a rounded performance that had Atletico's back four completely bewildered. Bale's price tag is the only argument for his automatic return to the starting lineup at the moment.
Di Maria also proved decisive, teeing up Jese's goal, starting the move that led to Pepe's with a jinking cross-field run and scoring himself -- via another wicked deflection off Joao Miranda, who endured a miserable evening in general -- to put the tie beyond any reasonable doubt; even the most uncommitted of the Bernabeu's sitting jury on the Argentinian international cannot fail to have been swayed on Wednesday.
Isco had noted in an interview earlier in the week that Real needed a result against a big club. So far this season, Ancelotti's side has fallen short against Villarreal, Atletico, Barcelona, Juventus, Osasuna, Olimpic de Xativa and Athletic Bilbao. All of those matches, with the exception of Atletico, were played away. Wednesday's result won't bring back those three points but it did restore faith at the Bernabeu at a crucial juncture of the season; Atletico will not be nearly as confident of doing a double over its city rivals when the teams meet at the Calderon in early March.
In the meantime, Real's impressive win all but makes next week's return at the Calderon a formality.