Real Madrid vs. Elche: 6 Things We Learned

Tre' AtkinsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2014

Real Madrid vs. Elche: 6 Things We Learned

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Real Madrid saw off visitors Elche at the Santiago Bernabeu Saturday afternoon, putting three goals past their opponents and keeping a clean sheet. It was all hands on deck for Los Blancos, who put in an impressive performance that gave the fans real bang for their buck.

    Asier Illarramendi opened up the scoring with a deflected shot in the first half, followed by two impressive strikes in the second half by Gareth Bale and Isco.

    Elche performed very well considering who their opponents were, and their fans should be proud. In the end, Real Madrid would take their three points, putting even more pressure on Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

    In this article we will take a look at six things we learned from the match and discuss just what they mean for both clubs. Let's begin.

    *All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com

Raphael Varane Is Getting Back to His Best

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    Gabriel Pecot/Associated Press

    Raphael Varane is one the major pillars of Real Madrid's future. The 20-year-old defender plays with maturity well beyond his age and was arguably one of the best center-backs in Europe last season.

    However, Varane has been plagued with injury this season and has not had the chance to get back into the rhythm of playing until just recently.

    Thankfully for Real Madrid, Varane is starting to look like his normal self again. The French starlet won every single header he challenged for and was not beaten off the dribble a single time.

    Varane did not have to make any real tackles in the game due to Real Madrid's solid defending as a unit, but his movement and reading of the game showed that he is getting back to his best.

    With Varane now making regular appearances in the lineup again, Real Madrid fans have something else to be happy about. The 20-year-old is going to get more chances, and you can bet he will find his best form sometime really soon.

Elche Can Defend Quite Well

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Going into their game at the Santiago Bernabeu, Elche had conceded 34 goals in 24 matches. That may seem like a lot, but for a club just coming out of the second division they are playing better than many thought they would.

    Then again, Elche was by far the strongest defensive side in the second division last season, conceding only 27 goals in the entire campaign, according to Eurosport's league table.

    Against Real Madrid, Elche showed that they still have what it takes to play a good game at the back. The center-back combo of Alberto Botia and David Lomban provided physical strength in front of the keeper, while the full-backs looked sharp for the most part.

    The visitors did allow their hosts to score three goals, but two of those strikes were a bit unlucky.

    Illarramendi opened up the scoring with a lucky deflection, then Gareth Bale beat the keeper from ridiculous range. Isco later added a third, but Real Madrid's quality was always going to be a major factor.

    In the end, Elche were playing Real Madrid, who were expected to score a few goals. The visitors were never going to keep a clean sheet at the Bernabeu. But Elche fans should be happy seeing how well their side did at the back as a whole.

Illarramendi Coming into His Own

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Since joining Real Madrid last summer, Asier Illarramendi has not justified his €39 million transfer fee from Real Sociedad. The Basque midfielder has looked good at times, but fans were expecting more.

    However, Illarramendi was handed a rare La Liga start on Saturday and repaid Carlo Ancelotti with a man-of-the-match performance that showed he is finally coming into his own for Los Blancos.

    The 23-year-old completed nearly 90 percent of his passes and won three tackles in midfield. He formed a beautiful Basque pairing with Xabi Alonso and gave the back line incredible coverage while holding up play.

    But the former Real Sociedad man played more than just a defensive role. 

    Illarramendi got forward many times during the game and even had an attacking presence. His night was definitely capped off by his deflected goal and the Bernabeu faithful were happy to see him score his first goal with the club.

    This is the Asier Illarramendi that Real Madrid purchased from Real Sociedad, and this is the player they are expecting him to be.

     

No Ramos, Ronaldo or Modric? No Problem

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    The match against Elche had the potential to be a trap game for Los Blancos. It never looked like they could lose the game, but the visitors did have the chance to possibly steal a point when looking at Real Madrid's lineup.

    Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric were missing due to suspension. With Ronaldo being the soul of the Real Madrid attack and Modric producing the magic as of late, things could have been difficult.

    Sergio Ramos was also rested, and it is safe to assume that Ancelotti did not want to chance the defender getting suspended with big games on the horizon. But yet again, the defense had no problems without the Spanish international.

    Even with three major stars out of the lineup, Los Blancos did not miss a beat. They played their game in front of their own fans and showed that the squad is much deeper than in previous years.

    Seeing Real Madrid win 3-0 is fairly normal in Spain, but doing so without their biggest stars is a statement.

The Jese vs. Gareth Bale War Heats Up

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    For the last month or so, Jese has been making a statement in the Real Madrid lineup. The former youth academy star has not only been showing up Gareth Bale, he has also been also been the club's biggest star not named Cristiano Ronaldo.

    However, Gareth Bale has been looking to show why Real Madrid made him the most expensive player in history and has been in a battle with Jese for the starting right-wing role.

    Against Elche, their position battle brought out the best in them.

    Jese appeared to be showing up his teammate once again in the first half of the game. The 20-year-old seemed to be everywhere for Los Blancos and was constantly causing problems for the Elche defense.

    Bale was relatively invisible in the first half, but did make his presence known with a big play in the second half. After 70 minutes of play, Bale blasted an effort from distance that rattled off the crossbar and into the back of the net.

    At the end of the game it was clear that Jese had put in a wonderful performance, but Bale did put his mark on the game by scoring. The Real Madrid wingers continue to challenge for the starting spot and it getting very interesting.

Real Madrid the Favorites to Win La Liga?

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    Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

    Real Madrid have stormed back to force a three-way tie at the top of the La Liga table. After their win against Elche, they now sit three points ahead of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who will both play later this weekend.

    But with the way that Real Madrid have been playing lately, they just may be the favorites to lift the trophy at this point.

    Since the start of the new year, Real Madrid have gone unbeaten and have conceded only three goals in total. The offense is performing at a high level, the midfield is controlling play and the defense has finally figured things out.

    There seem to be no weak links in the Real Madrid chain as they hit their best form of the season. It is safe to say that Real Madrid could be the favorites to win the league at this point, as long as they can keep this form up in the coming weeks.

    What did you make of Real Madrid's victory? Can Los Blancos win the La Liga title in May? Leave your thoughts and comments below!