By defeating Atlético 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday night for its seventh straight win in LaLiga, Real Madrid further enhanced its reputation as favorite while perhaps dooming Atléti's title defense before the campaign's halfway point.
The gap between first-place Real and fourth-place Atlético is already 13 points, and this edition of El Derbi highlighted what makes Carlo Ancelotti's side the best in Spain and a growing threat in the Champions League.
Karim Benzema returned to the starting lineup after a minor hamstring complaint kept him out of Tuesday's UCL win over Inter Milan, and the Frenchman scored his LaLiga-leading 13th of the season with a controlled volley after being picked out by Vinícius Júnior.
Their partnership has moved beyond excellent and into the frightening.
WOW!Karim Benzema volleys home the cross from Vinicius Jr. pic.twitter.com/L9mxA2YtbD
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 12, 2021
The bad news for Real is that Benzema must've aggravated his injury, because the striker didn't emerge for the second half and was replaced by Luka Jović.
But Vinícius was still out there, and in the 79th-minute, the Brazilian provided his fourth assist of the campaign for Marco Asensio, who got the start at right wing following his incredible strike against Inter.
¡El Madrid anota el segundo!⚽⚽Asensio la colocó pegada al poste y aumenta la ventaja.
( @Verizon ) pic.twitter.com/CEjePaSgjE
— ESPN Deportes (@ESPNDeportes) December 12, 2021
And while Benzema and Vinícius have written the headlines this year, Real's defense has improved week by week with its formidable spine of Thibaut Courtois (who saved a venomous João Félix volley with his face), the emerging central pairing of Eder Militão and David Alaba and the commanding Casemiro.
It was also another match in which we saw that Toni Kroos clearly isn't old — he's 31 — and Luka Modrić, despite being a 36-year-old box-to-box midfielder, is still world-class.
"I feel very good and I feel that I am younger than 30," Modrić said the other day, and you really can't argue otherwise right now. While that midfield trio doesn't age or change, the same can't be said of four Real players who made the bench but never saw the pitch: Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco.
It's a new Real Madrid that's suddenly looking a lot like the old one.