Real Madrid vs Espanyol: 5 Things We Learned Live at the Bernabéu
League leaders Real Madrid gave a fantastic display at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday night, thrashing Espanyol by a scoreline of 5-0.
Los Blancos were without regular starters Karim Benzema, Ángel di María and Pepe, but José Mourinho's men looked sharp going forward and solid at the back.
Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Sami Khedira, Gonzalo Higuaín and Kaká sealed the three points for Madrid, as the club retains their 10-point lead over rivals Barcelona.
I was there to see the match live in Madrid, Spain. Here are five things we learned from Los Blancos' convincing victory.
Ricardo Carvalho Is Lacking Match Sharpness
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Ricardo Carvalho returned to the starting XI on Sunday night, but the veteran central defender only lasted 45 minutes in a disappointing performance. The former Chelsea star looked off the pace throughout the first half, clearly lacking fitness and match sharpness.
Carvalho put the Madrid backline under pressure twice early on. The Portuguese defender sold Sergio Ramos short with a square ball at the back, and he made a similar mistake with a backpass to Iker Casillas.
He seemed to lack the mental awareness that Madridistas have come to expect from the experienced centre-back.
Already on a yellow card, Carvalho mistimed a few challenges and looked one or two fouls away from a second booking.
In order to see out the match 11 v 11, Mourinho had to make a change at the half. The Portuguese tactician replaced the veteran defender, bringing on young Frenchman Raphaël Varane to slot in alongside Ramos.
Mesut Özil Is Looking More Comfortable out on the Right Wing
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Mesut Özil gave a solid performance for Los Blancos on the right wing. With Di María missing through injury, Mourinho started the Madrid No. 10 out wide with Kaká playing a more central role.
Although Özil did not play in his preferred position, the German playmaker looked comfortable on the right wing of Madrid's 4-2-3-1 formation. He may not provide natural width down the flank, but he is a creative threat moving inside.
Similar to the way Zinedine Zidane used to move inside from the left wing, the German international is able to link up and combine with teammates in the final third. Özil played a significant role in Madrid's first two goals, tucking inside and finding the right pass.
With Di María all-action style of play and Los Blancos' lack of world-class depth at the winger position, Özil's ability to be effective out on the right wing will be important for Madrid this season and in the future.
Cristiano Ronaldo Is Anything but Selfish
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Critics who say that Cristiano Ronaldo is selfish are stuck in the past.
This season, Ronaldo seems to have finally shed that selfish image and solidified himself as a team player. The Portuguese superstar scored the opener against Espanyol, but he assumed the role of provider and creator for the majority of the match.
Ronaldo, with nine assists in all competitions, set up a golden opportunity for Higuaín late in the first half, but the Argentine international was unable to finish from close range.
The Madrid No. 7 was involved in Khedira and Kaká's goals as well. Ronaldo had numerous opportunities to cut inside from the left wing and have a shot on goal. Instead, he tried to pick out teammates making hurtful runs into the box.
The Portuguese star made good decisions in possession, driving at defenders in the final third and trying to setup teammates when the shot was not there.
Ronaldo did not have an assist to his name on Sunday night, but he was unselfish and incisive going forward.
Kaká Can Still Be World-Class
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Kaká played his best game for Real Madrid on Sunday night. The Brazilian playmaker was absolutely sensational against Espanyol, showing the class and brilliance that made him a legend at AC Milan.
The former Ballon d'Or winner scored a beautiful goal in the 66th minute and provided two assists for Higuaín as well.
Kaká's end product was world-class, but it was the overall performance that will be remembered at the Bernabéu. The Brazilian looked sharp on the ball and dangerous in possession throughout the 90 minutes.
His movement and decision-making with the ball at his feet were both outstanding. Kaká showed the quick change of pace to create separation from defenders in the final third, and the delicate touch to slip in teammates with the perfectly weighted pass.
The Brazilian playmaker looked sharp, fit, and ready to fight for his place in Mourinho's starting XI. Kaká has struggled to find his best form with Los Blancos, but he was nothing short of brilliant against Espanyol.
Different Than Benzema, but Gonzalo Higuaín Is Lethal
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Although Higuaín is not a versatile striker like Benzema, he can still be ruthless in front of goal. The Argentine hitman was impressive against Espanyol, bagging two goals and contributing two assists in front of the home supporters.
There has been speculation that "El Pipita" could be on his way out of the Spanish capital in the summer, with rumours of a potential swap with Sergio Agüero dominating headlines.
Higuaín was clearly not in his best form heading into Sunday's clash, but the Argentine silenced his critics with a world-class display. The Madrid striker showed great goalscoring instincts with two clinical finishes inside the box.
Higuaín may not provide the link up and combination play that Benzema does upfront, but he knows how to find the back of the net.
The Argentine international is a completely different type of striker. Higuaín has a much more direct style of play, making intelligent diagonal runs and always looking to have a shot on goal.
Although Benzema has solidified himself as the first-choice option when fit and Los Blancos might pursue another dynamic striker better suited for the current system in the summer, Higuaín is a lethal goalscorer when given the opportunity.