Carlo Ancelotti fielded his strongest possible team against Osasuna in the Copa del Rey, and it eventually paid off as Madrid overcame the Pamplona-based side after enduring a frustrating night.
Javi Garcia's team are well-coached and proved more than difficult for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. to break down. Los Rojillos, however, were ultimately undone by their own lack of penetration and threat in attack.
Karim Benzema scored a deserved first, his 99th career goal with Madrid, when he headed in Luka Modric's wicked in-swinging free-kick. The goal was a cheap one to give away from Osasuna's point of view, having frustrated Madrid for the best part of the opening 20 minutes.
The second came on the hour mark after a brilliant example of the kind of work rate expected by forwards at the highest level. Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Benzema closed the Osasuna defense down ruthlessly as Jese Rodriguez scored his fourth goal of the season.
As is accustomed with many of the ball-playing teams in La Liga, both sides began with 4-2-3-1 formations. However, their managers' philosophies could not have been more different.
Garcia's team were tight and compact in midfield and defense, and were built purely to keep the score down whilst possibly nicking a goal into the bargain. Madrid, by contrast, fielded their most potent attacking players as they looked to put this first-leg tie to bed.
Osasuna were more than comfortable in possession before and after the second goal, and this turned out to be their greatest defensive attribute. Los Rojillos, by simply keeping possession, kept Madrid to just two shots on target from 21 in a disheartening night for their watching fans.
By holding on to the ball, they denied the likes of Modric, Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema the ability to counter-attack. Pace in attack is where Madrid are strongest, but they simply cannot maintain it if they do not have the ball.
When Madrid did get the chance to attack, they infrequently went to Ronaldo on the left and Bale on the right, as the center was closed off. The fact that Jese Rodriguez was employed more as a forward who dropped deep rather than as an attacking midfielder who supported the attack also caused some problems for a slightly disjointed Los Blancos. Jese, however, could not be held to blame, and the 20-year-old impressed in a rare start.
Both Ronaldo and Bale seemed intent on cutting inside both with or without the ball. This allowed Benzema and the impressive and highly interesting Jese to attack through the middle or to push wide. Bale, in particular, made plenty of decoy runs infield which gave Alvaro Arbeloa numerous opportunities to bomb into the vacated space on the right.
While Osasuna's defensive display was impressive, their attacking display was less so. Their six shots on goal came courtesy of half-chances from set pieces. All too often they played the game in front of Madrid's back four and never tried to turn the defense.
This allowed Madrid's defenders to push up, as Osasuna offered no real danger. They only tried to get in behind Madrid's back four once and never once tried to play through them. This impotence in attack, with Oriol Riera particularly guilty, basically freed Asier Illarramendi and Modric from their defensive duties. It allowed the mobile 23-year-old, filling in for Xabi Alonso, to push on time and time again.
Illarramendi is, however, on this inspection, little more than a high-class nuts-and-bolts player and is not as creative as the former Liverpool man. This is an area where Madrid lacked real nous.
With Modric their only creative outlet in midfield—closely marked by Silva and Miguel Angel de la Cuevas who dropped deep to assist—and with Osasuna playing deep and hogging possession, Madrid struggled to create anything of note. They too struggled to get in behind Osasuna's defense.
With the supply line of Modric so closely watched, Madrid rarely managed to get the ball into Ronaldo or Bale. For the first hour, they were little more than expensively paid spectators. It must be said, though, that the Croatian midfielder was excellent and easily the most outstanding player on show. He has now exorcised the foolish abuse he was given last season, when he was voted the worst signing of the 2012-13 season by reads of Spanish newspaper Marca.
Ironically, Madrid's second goal came after superb work from Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo, who closed down Oier on the edge of his own box. The defender, quite inexplicably when faced with three of the best and most dangerous players in the world, tried to play the ball out of danger and gifted Benzema the ball with a horrible and lazy back pass.
The Frenchman fed Ronaldo, who laid the ball off to Jese, who finished with aplomb.
The goal, in many ways, killed the game. Osasuna seemed to double their defensive efforts and, apart from a quick flurry of chances following the goal, they denied Madrid any more goalscoring opportunities.
Garcia's team seemed happy with the 2-0 loss, having won just two of their previous 15 away matches. Madrid have only beaten Los Rojillos once in their last six matches at the El Sadar, so this tie is still very much open.
Ancelotti will be unhappy with just the two goals considering the lack of threat from Osasuna and the near-complete domination of the match by his team. However, he will be more than aware that his team play every three days between January 6 and January 18.
Madrid now face three tough away fixtures in a row over the next nine days against Espanyol, the return leg against Osasuna and Real Betis.
In this context, the clean sheet—Madrid's seventh in their last 10 games—the winning return from the winter break and the tough schedule ahead mean that Madrid will be happy, if not ecstatic, with this routine win over Osasuna.
All statistics from Soccerbase, UEFA.com and WhoScored.com
You can find me on Twitter @WillieGannon.