There were brief moments in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Tuesday night in which Real Madrid displayed glimpses of their devastating potential for the season ahead.
Early on, it was Gareth Bale who sparkled at the Bernabeu, terrorising new Atletico Madrid left-back Guillherme Siqueira with both blistering speed and deft touches. Once from a free-kick and once from open play, the former Tottenham star forced Miguel Moya into smart saves.
Following the Welshman's lead was Toni Kroos, who, with the help of Karim Benzema, momentarily burst into the penalty area just after half-time before having a shot blocked. It wouldn't be the first time the German made an attempt on goal.
At right-back, Daniel Carvajal was particularly bright, sprinting forward with regularity to combine with Bale, also playing a leading role in Real's solitary goal. James Rodriguez, too, made his first meaningful impression for Los Blancos, grabbing the lead for the hosts in the 81st minute to cap off his team's most incisive move.
But against a typically robust and organised Atletico Madrid managed by Diego Simeone, and despite flashes of brilliance, the European champions put together a somewhat disjointed performance, Raul Garcia grabbing the equaliser for Los Rojiblancos from a corner in the 88th minute.
As the teams left the field after the final whistle deadlocked at 1-1, it was apparent that Carlo Ancelotti still has work to do with Real Madrid.
The most obvious issue for the Italian is how his team needs to adapt their shape depending upon the composition of the XI.
On Tuesday against the defending La Liga champions, Ancelotti started with his characteristic 4-3-3, deploying a midfield trio of Kroos, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric. While that triumvirate is sublime on the ball, Real Madrid will lack power and drive when that combination is used, as explained in detail by Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe.
That was certainly the case on Tuesday, with Los Blancos missing a midfielder capable of regularly breaking lines—think Angel Di Maria.
When a seemingly injured Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted for Rodriguez at the break, the Colombian assumed the Portuguese's left-sided role but struggled to make an impact out wide.
Needing to alter the game's path, Ancelotti inserted Di Maria for Modric, seeing Los Blancos switch to something more of a 4-4-2, using Bale and Di Maria on the wings with Rodriguez moving centrally alongside Benzema.
It worked. Briefly, at least.
However, the reshuffle to best accommodate the club's £63 million signing neatly illustrated the conundrum facing Ancelotti: Despite an unrivalled attacking cast, the full array of the manager's options don't all seamlessly fit into the same system.
A No. 10 by trade, Rodriguez is most accustomed to playing the central role of a 4-2-3-1. Such a formation doesn't suit the Ronaldo-Bale tandem quite so well.
Kroos, with his supreme playmaking capacity, would be better complemented by more athleticism than that offered by the combination of Modric and Alonso in a 4-3-3. Indeed, many of the Croatian's talents are wasted when he's forced to sit deeper to shield rather than create.
Interestingly, it's Di Maria with the uncertain future who's the versatile piece capable of making the various systems work.
If Real Madrid are to dominate as they intend to in 2014-15, it's these puzzles and complications that Ancelotti must decipher.
The enviable advantage belonging to the continental champions, of course, is their remarkable firepower.
For most clubs, adjustment phases are defined by barren stretches as new teammates take time to fall in sync with those around them.
Real Madrid are vastly different in that sense.
Possessing Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Rodriguez, Kroos, Di Maria—for now, anyway—and Jese when he returns from injury, Los Blancos have the talent and strike force to push through a transitional period largely unscathed.
Yet, as made evident last season, the margins in La Liga are incredibly small; slip-ups of any sort seriously hamper a team's title challenge in the top-heavy first division of Spanish football.
For Real Madrid to achieve the dominance they crave in both Spain and across Europe, the systematic quandaries will need to be solved, strong combinations must be identified and individual roles need to be settled upon.
Until that point, Ancelotti's team are still a work in progress.
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