James Rodriguez was Real Madrid's most impressive attacker in Friday night's Spanish Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid and must surely now be considered a definite starter for Monday's Primera Division opener against newly promoted Cordoba.
Rodriguez scored Madrid's goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw but had otherwise provided little of note in his 45 minutes on the pitch. He had struggled to impose himself and had given the ball away cheaply on two or three occasions.
His performance on Friday was far more accomplished.
He moved infield intelligently from his starting position on the left of Madrid’s three-pronged attack, finding pockets of space in and around the Atletico 18-yard box. He had a low effort well saved, headed wide from a Luka Modric cross and curled a lovely effort just past the post from the edge of the area.
The chance he provided for Gareth Bale (see video below) toward the end of the half offered a perfect illustration of the qualities he brought to the side during the first period.
As Xabi Alonso picked up the ball in the centre of the pitch, Rodriguez moved quickly to position himself between the Atletico centre-backs and central midfielders.
Alonso zipped a crisp pass into his feet, which Rodriguez took beautifully, opening up his body and finding Bale, who in turn took a touch past a defender before firing wide.
Against a team whose whole defensive approach is based upon staying vertically compact, his ability to find space and sure touch in tight areas played a key role in Madrid's attacks.
Carlo Ancelotti was certainly happy with the impact made by his summer recruit.
"In the first half he did very well," he said after the match, as reported by AS. "He was our most dangerous player; he looked for good positions between the lines."
ESPN's Dermot Corrigan was also impressed with Rodriguez's first-half showing:
James has been really good, bit like against Brazil at WC showing he is not at all fazed by physical battle / hostile crowd.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) August 22, 2014
Rodriguez was moved back into midfield following the half-time introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo for Toni Kroos and was unable to have the same impact in the early moments of the second half.
Without a well-defined midfield structure, Madrid were unable to exert control over the match and were comfortably contained by their city rivals.
He still produced one moment of magic, though, aiming a superb volleyed flick into the path of Ronaldo in the build-up to a shot on target from the Madrid No. 7.
Rodriguez's match came to an end shortly thereafter, as Isco was brought on in his place.
"He was tired," Ancelotti confirmed afterwards. The Italian coach may have had one eye on Monday's fixture, particularly as concerns remain over Ronaldo's niggling knee problems.
If Ronaldo doesn't start against Cordoba, then the left-sided forward role seems the best fit for Rodriguez. Ancelotti seems content to stick with the 4-3-3 for now, which means Rodriguez is unlikely to be deployed in his favoured position as an outright attacking midfielder.
Should James Rodriguez start against Cordoba?
Rodriguez played in a front three at Porto, and although he shone in a central attacking-midfield role for Colombia during the World Cup, he played from the left for much of their qualifying campaign.
Indeed, at this moment in time, he seems better suited to a place in the front three than in the hybrid central midfielder/attacking midfielder role he was asked to fulfil against Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup final.
Madrid paid €80 million to sign Rodriguez from Monaco following his superb performances during the World Cup. He may take a little time to fully adjust to the rhythm of La Liga and the pressure of playing for a club of Madrid's stature, but both processes will only be accelerated by giving him game time.
Ancelotti can start the process in earnest by allowing Rodriguez to build on his promising showing on Friday with a start against Cordoba.