Real Madrid are finally getting back to their best. The 4-0 weekend win against Alaves was Los Blancos' fifth in a row and continued an upturn in form for the European champions as they prepare to face Paris Saint-Germain away on March 6th.
Zinedine Zidane's side started the season with victory over Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup and back-to-back wins over Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa, while they also claimed the Club World Cup in December to finish 2017 with five trophies.
But the titles masked an inconsistency that saw Real fall off the pace in La Liga and later crash out of the Copa del Rey as well, losing games to Betis, Girona, Barca and Villarreal in the Primera Division, with a surprise loss at Leganes in the cup and defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League.
Along the way, there have also been disappointing draws against Levante (twice), Spurs (at the Bernabeu), Numancia and Fuenlabrada (in the Copa at home, albeit with weakened sides) too.
So Saturday's win was as important as it was emphatic – a fifth straight success for the first time this season, following the victories over Real Sociedad (5-2), PSG (3-1), at Betis (5-3) and away to Leganes (3-1).
The 4-0 win over Alaves means Madrid have scored 20 goals in those last five fixtures and there has been a clear improvement in form for Los Blancos in that time. So how has it happened?
Cristiano Ronaldo's goals have helped. The Portuguese scored only four times in the first half of La Liga, but has netted 10 times – more than any other player – in the second half of the competition already, despite sitting out the game against Leganes last week.
Two of those strikes came in the win over Alaves, in which Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema were also on target, the French forward converting with a penalty after he was handed the ball by Ronaldo. It was the first time the three had netted all together in the same match since April 2016.
Benzema and Bale were better on Saturday, but it was Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez who inspired Madrid's win over PSG as they starred as late substitutes in the Champions League clash and those two – along with Mateo Kovacic – have also impressed since.
Marcelo, currently out injured, was also back to his best in the game against PSG after what has been a poor campaign by his standards. The Brazilian was tireless that night and scored the third goal for Los Blancos to ensure the champions travel to Paris next week with a superb chance of progressing.
Indeed, it was noticeable in the win over PSG that Madrid's players were working harder. With La Liga out of reach and the Copa gone, they knew it was their last chance to claim some credit – and also some silverware – at the end of this season and it appeared that the focus and the drive had returned.
Against Alaves, Madrid also managed to keep a clean sheet for the first time in nine games and Zidane was happy with his side's performance in beating Abelardo's in-form team.
"Confidence returns with this type of games," he said. "Since the PSG game we have been doing well, but we needed a match like this. We have to carry on in the same vein."
And he added: "The most important thing is the atmosphere in the dressing room. The group in this dressing room is top, the best there is. We have gone through some really complicated moments, but the dressing room is strong."
It is good news for Zidane. Defeat at home to PSG and the season would have been all but over, but his players reacted just in time and now have a shot at an unprecedented third successive Champions League crown. Don't rule them out.