Five wins and a draw constitutes an acceptable start for Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid in La Liga, but there is a feeling that results are glossing over performance levels ahead of this weekend's derby against Atletico Madrid inside the Bernabeu. Real Betis have already come close to a draw against Los Blancos, Elche came closer still and Villarreal took one point when they could have taken three.
Those two dropped points at El Madrigal remain the difference between Atleti and Barca – who both maintain 100 per cent starts – and Madrid at these early stages. And in a title race where draws are dubbed as defeats, Ancelotti can't afford to see his side drop more points when Los Rojiblancos hop across the city on Saturday evening – especially considering Barcelona meet Almeria earlier that night.
The Italian has been forced to do without a number of players, while others are clearly lacking match fitness. He's been unable to call on Xabi Alonso at all, Fabio Coentrao only returned to the left-back position in midweek, while Raphael Varane featured on the bench and expensive signings Asier Illarramendi and Gareth Bale are yet to really find their feet. Still, the teams Ancelotti has put out should have been capable of more inspiring performances than merely crawling over the line as they have been forced to do on more than one occasion already this season.
Karim Benzema remains one of the major talking points around the capital. Two goals in his first two League games have been followed by none in his next four, although he did manage a brace in the Champions League thrashing of Galatasaray. Sections of the Bernabeu booed him in the win over Athletic Bilbao, more still jeered him in the victory over Getafe – the Frenchman missed two gilt-edged headers – and he looked out of sorts again against Elche. A performance in the derby is necessary for him and his team.
Elsewhere, positive vibes surround the performances of Luka Modric and Isco, who have both started the season well, and Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored seven goals in three matches since signing his new deal. Pepe, despite his debatable antics to win that penalty against Elche, has looked refreshed under Ancelotti, and Diego Lopez has been a symbol of calm amidst all the panic over the goalkeeping battle between himself and Iker Casillas.
Yet something just hasn't quite been right. Ancelotti is visibly trying to change Madrid from the brutal counter-attacking force they established themselves as under Jose Mourinho, into a more possession based side. Modric in a deeper role and Isco instead of Mesut Ozil are testament to that. Stamping your mark on a team is never easy to do though – especially when it involves incorporating several new signings – so some might suggest remaining unbeaten through this process represents and impressive start for the 54-year-old.
They might not be pressing those arguments should Madrid fall to Atleti on Saturday though. Los Rojiblancos beat their arch rivals in the Copa del Rey Final last season at the Bernabeu, ending a winless run which stretched back to 1999. Their confidence is reflected in the words of Thibaut Courtois: “We have a great team and we know how to beat them.”
Ancelotti may have been eased into life in Spain by the fixture list, but on Saturday night he meets his first test.