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Real Madrid's sum greater than its parts

Cristiano Ronaldo led the plaudits on Sunday, and rightly so, but plenty of applause should be afforded for Madrid's attacking nature as a team.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Real Madrid chalked up their biggest win since 1967 on Sunday thanks to a 9-1 demolition job of Granada and there was more than just a slice of luck and a sieve-like visiting defence to thank for their Bernabeu goal glut.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a fantastic five for the first time in his career and became the first player since Falcao, for Atletico Madrid in 2012, to score his own personal ‘manita' as he took his season's Liga tally to a staggering 36 goals, in turn silencing some recent critics. His eight-minute hat-trick in the first-half stunned the Andalusians and set Madrid on their way to becoming the first side to score nine goals in a Liga match since Barcelona's 9-0 triumph over Rayo Vallecano in 1979.

Ronaldo was the star turn, highlighting just why he won last year's Ballon d'Or award with a return to the scintillating form that he showcased before Christmas, but Madrid's attacking trio as a whole enjoyed one of their best performances together. Gareth Bale set the ball rolling with the opener and Karim Benzema added a brace as the European champions showed no mercy to a Granada side who face a tough task to maintain their top-flight status.

So why did Madrid manage as many goals in one match as they had in their previous six matches combined? And why did Cristiano Ronaldo raise the bar with five goals when he had managed ten in his previous 15 outings since the turn of the year?

The sum was great than the parts, both on the day and the build-up to the match. There was more than just individual brilliance on show on Sunday, although that was a factor.

The opposition, with respect, was the first thing that helped. Granada had managed just two wins in 24 matches going into the game and look destined for relegation unless things radically improve in their last nine matches. The international break also helped Carlo Ancelotti's men. It helped them to forget about the blow of the 2-1 Clasico defeat and it helped individual players get a break from what can be an overpowering pressure at the Bernabeu when things aren't going so well. It helped pick confidence back up for some players and fitness players for others. For the rest it offered a break.

Perhaps the biggest single thing that helped Madrid regain their devastating attacking form was actually in midfield, where Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez played together for the first time since November. That match? A 5-1 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano.

With that trio sitting behind the ‘BBC' of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano, Madrid have lost once this season, the 2-1 home defeat against Atletico Madrid in La Liga. The last five times they played together before Sunday, which culminated with that comfortable win against Rayo, Madrid won all five, scoring 25 and conceding just three. Within that run was the thumping 8-2 win at Deportivo La Coruna.

Ancelotti is a coach who preaches the value of the team rather than the individual and it was no coincidence that a trio that have started the vast majority of matches this season have shone when Kroos, Modric and James have been behind them. Indeed, the Colombian returned from a two-month lay-off with a foot injury and produced two assists in 60 minutes, while Modric chipped in with another and Kroos kept things nicely ticking along. If the ‘BBC' are the arms and the chimes on the clock, Kroos, Modric and James are the cocks that keep them moving.

James, in particular, handed Madrid an extra edge going forward. There was some pressure on the former Monaco man owing to the man he replaced, Isco, being the darling of the Madrid fans since the winter break. The Spain international was absent through suspension but he has excelled this season so much so that Ancelotti placed him alongside the ‘BBC' in the "non-negotiable" category when it comes to picking his team.

The World Cup star had been absent since the 2-1 victory over Sevilla, over two months ago, but he looked like he had never been away in his first match back. Granada did not offer the sternest test in the middle of the park but James looked physically sharp and, crucially, mentally sharp. He did not fade away in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch.

He may not have the darting turn and pace of Isco but he does have the speed of mind and a similarly exquisite touch that allows him to beat a man, or two, with ease. He also has a delicate left foot in a team with an abundance of left-footed stars and, attacking flair and class aside, buys into Ancelotti's ethic of also tracking back to help out defensively, although not much of that was required at the weekend.

In returning, James linked up seamlessly with Marcelo down the left and that in turn allowed Ronaldo, playing mostly on the left of Madrid's front three, able to move closer to goal - and with devastating impact. The Portuguese did not use his energy beating a man out wide, instead leaving that to the South American duo and moving closer inside the box to get his goals. It was a tactic used before the injury to Modric and it's one of the most brutal in Madrid's locker.

Confidence was also key on Sunday. Madrid may have been in control for the first 25 minutes against a side struggling against relegation but they never looked like enjoying a rout. The Andalusians, too, had their chances and a big mistake from Iker Casillas almost let Robert Ibanez in for the opener. With the way the Bernabeu has turned on their players in recent weeks, it could have left an extremely delicate situation.

Instead, a superb through-ball from Kroos and the kind of pace and power that saw Madrid spend big money on Bale turned the game in the favour of the hosts. That Madrid then scored six goals in 26 minutes around the half-time interval was telling. The confidence was flowing and the confidence was back.

Now Madrid need it to stay there and, with respect to their opposition, they have every chance of hitting the attacking heights they found before Christmas during their 22-game winning run. Rayo Vallecano have been in good form of late but their style of play and high defensive line could suit Madrid down to the ground. Paco Jemez won't change that. Eibar and Malaga, both at home, then follow while Barcelona encounter tricky matches against Sevilla, away, and Valencia, at home.

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