Real Madrid still don’t know exactly what they are doing in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo but, with players as dangerous as Gareth Bale, they don’t necessarily have to. Or at least not yet.
All three of the forward line - Bale, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio - offered moments of gleaming quality which were enough to power Los Blancos past Girona after a tight first half to earn a comfortable 4-1 victory at Montilivi on Sunday.
Their nightmarish defeat in the heartland of Catalonia last season was brought to mind after Borja Garcia rifled Girona ahead, but despite Julen Lopetegui’s side taking a while to work their way into the game, they eventually hit their stride and the goals began to flow.
Benzema struck twice which, considering he only managed five in La Liga in the entirety of last season, will be a weight off the Frenchman’s mind.
Bale continued his own hot streak too, having now scored in each of the team’s last six league matches.
And Asensio, who won two penalties, burst into life as the game opened up in the second half, displaying the skills and quality on the ball which will delight Madrid fans wondering where the excitement will come from now Ronaldo has left for Juventus.
It was the cliched game of two halves, with Madrid’s first-half performance worrying for Lopetegui, who saw his team unable to create many openings against determined opponents who thrust forward on the counter at any opportunity, targeting Marcelo.
Girona only ended up with one goal thanks to Keylor Navas, who looks determined to keep his first-team spot with new signing Thibaut Courtois lurking on the bench.
One high-speed dart out of his goal to stop Portu, something the Belgian would not be able to accomplish due to his sheer size, was particularly notable. It might be a while before we see Courtois get his chance.
Six minutes before half-time the pattern of the game changed. Marc Muniesa committed a needless foul on Asensio, with Sergio Ramos coolly chipping home the resulting penalty, and out of nothing Madrid had a foothold in the game.
And, six minutes after half-time, Girona committed the same mistake, this time Pere Pons taking out Asensio for Benzema to send Madrid ahead.
Now the dynamic of the match was different. Girona had to come out of their shell and that created perfect conditions for Bale and Asensio, in particular, to shine.
The Welshman scored a brilliant third, the sharp end of a lethal counter-attack which flowed from Navas to Isco to Bale, with Girona unable to get anywhere near the ball.
It was Bale who set up the fourth for Benzema to tuck home from close range, putting a gloss on the scoreline the second-half performance merited.
Thanks to two foolish mistakes by Girona the game pivoted in Madrid’s favour and Bale and co took full advantage. This calibre of player can be relied upon to take mid-table sides apart.
What we don’t know yet is how Lopetegui’s side will fare against stronger opponents. With trips to Sevilla and Bilbao, and the first Madrid derby of the season upcoming, we will soon find out.