1. Madrid's failure to attack through the center of the pitch has caught up to them. Ancelotti's put together a squad which dominates the flanks, but a byproduct of doing so has turned Madrid one-dimensional. For the second straight match, Madrid failed to create any chances through the middle and relied too heavily desperate crosses and long-ball passes. As good as Marcelo, Carvajal, Ronaldo, and Bale are on the wings, Madrid need to let Isco and Kroos crack open opposing defences through the center of the pitch.
2. Gareth Bale is doing everything but finding the net. Early in the season Ancelotti quipped that he'd like to see Bale contribute more on the defensive end, and Bale's not taken the advice lightly. Once a one-way player, Bale's positioning is now much more free-flowing, often swapping wings and helping win balls back. Despite being in his longest point drought since joining Madrid, Gareth Bale has been affecting games and it's only a matter of time before he gets back on the scoresheet.
3. Set pieces continue to be underutilized. Ronaldo's free kick struggles are well documented, but Madrid have been equally poor on corners, both defending and attacking. A lack of movement and poorly taken crosses have all but erased corners from Madrid's bag of scoring options.
More on Real's 1-0 loss
A lethargic, lackluster first-half cost Real Madrid three points as a determined Bilbao leveraged Los Blancos opening stanza weakness into a 1-0 victory that blew the title race wide open. Real played with frantic intensity in the second, but it was not enough to snatch a point from the jaws of the hungry, committed lions. Grades below the jump.
More on Real's 1-0 loss
4. Asier Illarramendi offers something no other player on the squad can. What we don't know is just how valuable Ancelotti views his services. Illarra is a stalwart in the defensive midfield, and the comfort he provides Toni Kroos and Isco is visible. And Ancelotti might be right to use a situational player like Illarra sparingly, but against teams who love to counter quickly and often (like Athletic), Illarra is a very valuable asset.
5. Ancelotti's substitutions are both poorly timed and ineffective. While some of the burden falls on the players, Ancelotti sure isn't doing his reserves any favors. Jesé will not be able to develop with 20 arbitrarily selected minutes per week. Chicharito will not find any sort of form by only playing 10 minutes. Lucas Silva's style does not allow him to impact a game in 15 minutes. Carlo tends to wait at least an hour before making a change, and both the starters and subs stand to benefit from earlier changes.
6. "Things are never as good, nor as bad, as they seem." Yes, it would've been delightful to see Real run away with the league, but now we have an outright title chase and it will be nothing if not entertaining. Barring some subterfuge from Rayo tomorrow, Madrid's margin for error is all but gone. Barcelona have the more challenging remaining schedule, and Madrid appear to be finally getting healthy. The final Clásico of the season is already racing through my mind and I'll surely descend into some poor mental state well before then. But there's no denying the coming calamity in La Liga will be a good bit of fun.