After a fortnight of internationals, there were a lot of questions to be answered at the Bernabeu this weekend as the Spanish league resumed.
Crisitano Ronaldo sat out Madrid's first defeat of the season on the eve of the break but with two crucial qualifiers for Portugal, the Madrid star attempted to play for his nation. Exiting the pitch after only thirty minutes in the first match against Hungary, some estimates have the Ballon d'Or winner sidelined for up to a month with his ankle injury.
Critics were quick to chide the judgment of both Ronaldo and Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz while fans and journalists wondered aloud how Real Madrid would react to the loss of possibly the world's best player.
News surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo may be the most popular topic of discussion in the Spanish capital, but other questions surrounded Los Blancos as well. Would Real make any moves in the winter transfer period to bolster their questionable defence? With so much talent at the club, who should be on the pitch and for how long has also sparked debate throughout the city. Consequently, there has been much criticism of Manuel Pellegrini's rotation system in the midfield while some have been quick to condemn the amount of playing time Raul, Real's 32-year-old striker and captain, has received.
Before their match on Saturday night at the Bernabeu against Valladolid, Florentino Pérez, the club's chairman, presented Raul with an award for surpassing Manuel Sanchis as the most capped player in Real Madrid history. Within the first twenty minutes of match, Raul would silence the critics of his fitness, finding the back of the net twice from crosses into the area from Granero and Marcelo respectively.
Valladolid would cut the deficit in half courtesy of a superbly executed set piece from Nauzet Aleman. Creative play on the wing from Marcelo on half time would again double the home side's advantage while Marquitos' 53rd minute strike reduced the deficit once again while exposing Madrid's defensive weaknesses. Substitute Gonzalo Higuain's inspired chip over keeper Jacobo with a little more than ten minutes to play would seal the victory for Los Blancos; however, the visitors did not lack opportunities as Casillias again needed to be on form to rescue his teammates at times.
After Portugal were able to overcome 'Ronaldodependencia,' placing themselves one step closer to South Africa next summer, Real Madrid responded in similar fashion, earning three points and pulling themselves within one point of leaders Barcelona. I still am not sold on the Pellegrini midfield rotation, I think more consistency is needed at the Bernabeu if Madrid wish to make trophy runs this season. Nonetheless, Madrid was able to earn Saturday's victory with Brazilian international and superstar Kaka on the sideline as well, coming off the bench in the 72nd minute.
Team chemistry is crucial in my opinion though. Playing together, knowing where your teammates will be before they get there are some of the little things that separate the champions from the runners-up. At the same time, with the plethora of talent at Madrid's disposal the counter argument could be made that if a lengthy European run is made, Pellegrini's men will be the most fit come spring. What will ultimately decide Real Madrid's fate this campaign will be the play of the defence. Epitomized by Marquitos' goal, easily threading the ball through the Madrid defence and creating an easy path towards net, there is a lot of work to be done with Real's back line. Trite as it may be to say but champions are won with defence.