Real Madrid vs. Almeria: 6 Things We Learned
Real Madrid cruised past struggling Almeria on Saturday night with a 4-0 victory that propelled Carlo Ancelotti's side past rivals Barcelona and into second place on the league table.
The excellent Angel Di Maria opened the scoring for Los Blancos to see the home team take a 1-0 advantage into half-time before second-half goals from Gareth Bale, Isco and Alvaro Morata sealed the result.
The win, which was achieved without Cristiano Ronaldo, also ensures that Real Madrid remain hot on the heels of crosstown rivals Atletico, who face off with Getafe on Sunday.
Across the following slides, we examine the takeaways from Madrid's convincing victory.
Di Maria Must Stay in Madrid
Despite being one of Real Madrid's key figures this season, Angel Di Maria's future in the Spanish capital remains unsure according to Mundo Deportivo (h/t Football Espana).
After a stellar performance against Almeria on Saturday, it's plainly clear that the incisive midfielder should stay with Los Blancos.
In a dominant opening half-hour, Di Maria carved Almeria to shreds, launching a one-man assault on Suarez Esteban's goal that saw him hit the bar after just four minutes, force two smart saves after eight minutes and score his team's opener with a superb strike in the 28th minute.
Relishing the opportunity to push forward with relentless attacks, the Argentine was also extremely effective in linking up with Karim Benzema around the penalty area, as the home side simply overwhelmed its inferior opponents.
Popping up all over the pitch in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence, Di Maria put together a performance that reminded everyone why he's so critical to Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Bale Will Be a Force After Completing a Full Pre-Season
Praise for Gareth Bale has been growing in recent months, with the Welshman emerging from a somewhat subdued beginning to his first season with Real Madrid to demonstrate the devastating skills that he was purchased for.
Yet, fans must tremble when they think what Bale might be capable of in his second year in Spain, should he be able to complete a full pre-season.
On Saturday night against Almeria, Bale effortlessly cruised past Hansley Martinez and Marco Torsiglieri in the visitors' defence, showcasing the speed and power that made the 24-year-old the Premier League's pre-eminent player last season.
This, of course, is nothing new to football's observers. But too often it is underestimated how influential a player's pre-season training regime is to his success throughout a season.
Given that Bale is performing at an elite level having barely hit peak physical condition this season, it can only be expected that the Welshman will light up La Liga with a strong summer under his belt.
Madrid's Attack Is Amazingly Fluid at Its Best
Watching Real Madrid's attacking quartet against Almeria on Saturday was simply a delight.
The aforementioned Di Maria was superb, roaming from central midfield to both flanks in a dominant overall performance.
But he wasn't alone.
Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Isco also played significant roles in Real Madrid's attacking forays; Bale seamlessly switched from wing to wing with Di Maria; Benzema beautifully linked up around the box with his attacking counterparts, while Isco started a touch deeper but surged forward to provide another runner for the central Benzema.
Despite missing Cristiano Ronaldo, the home side's attack looked as fluid as ever in an opening hour that simply overwhelmed the visitors.
And although questions were raised following the team's 2-0 defeat at the hands of Dortmund, Madrid reminded everyone of how devastating the team can be in attack when the likes of Bale, Benzema and Di Maria get it right.
Copa del Rey Final Comes at a Perfect Time for Real Madrid
Despite suffering a tense 4-3 loss to Barcelona in the most recent El Clasico, Real Madrid's meeting with the Catalan giants in the Copa del Rey final couldn't be coming at a better time.
The team's progression into the semi-finals of the Champions League has coincided with a string of comfortable league victories, which should give Carlo Ancelotti's side a boost of confidence ahead of its rematch with Tata Martino's men.
The team from the capital will also be boosted by Barcelona's catastrophic week, which has seen the club's Champions League campaign end, as well as its league title charge halted by a 1-0 loss to Granada.
Still fighting on all three fronts, Los Blancos will hit Wednesday's cup final with surging momentum, while their opponents will arrive at the pivotal meeting with possibly the lowest confidence levels the Catalans have possessed all season.
Morata Is a Positive Headache for Ancelotti
Alvaro Morata put together another impressive—albeit short—performance after replacing Gareth Bale on Saturday night.
Charging down the left-hand side, the 21-year-old immediately gave his team another threatening option moving forward, capping off a fine showing with an 85th-minute goal.
With a plethora of attacking options, Morata will undoubtedly pose selection issues for Carlo Ancelotti moving forward, as he tries to juggle the attacking duties of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
Certainly, as one of Spain's brightest emerging players, Morata's talent demands more first-team action. But at his current club, that's something that will prove difficult, meaning Ancelotti will have decisions to make regarding Morata's playing time over the remainder of the season, as well as whether a spell elsewhere might benefit the young star.
Title Race Will Go Down to the Wire
With Real Madrid hitting peak form in the league by scoring 13 goals across their most recent three matches, it seems certain that the title race will go down to the wire.
Two consecutive losses to Barcelona and Sevilla had temporarily threatened to halt Real Madrid's charge, but with the Catalan's slip-up on Saturday and Atletico Madrid owning an unfamiliar position, it appears as though all three clubs will still be in the running for the trophy on the league's final day.
Given that Atletico now has the fate of the title in its hands, it's likely that the outcome of this La Liga season will be determined by the ability of Diego Simeone's side to hold its nerve and embrace the expectation that comes with sudden favouritism.
There are, of course, no certainties, and with Real Madrid being buoyed by a string of convincing league victories and Barcelona having the opportunity to defeat Atletico on the final day, all outcomes remain definitively possible.