By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It was a night of experiments for Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid. A comfortable clash at home to city rivals Rayo Vallecano (and a number of key absences) allowed the Portuguese to make changes and try out new things ahead of tougher tests in the coming weeks - namely Barcelona and Manchester United.
Sergio Ramos returned to his previous role of right-back as Pepe partnered the in-form Raphael Varane in central defence, while Kaka was handed a rare opportunity to impress and youngster Alvaro Morata made his first start in La Liga this term as Karim Benzema was benched.
And as the match got underway, all appeared to be running like clockwork; Morata scored, Kaka shone and Ramos headed home to make it 2-0 as Madrid monopolised the possession and the play in the opening minutes.
| SERGIO RAMOS' EVENTFUL EVENING
| THE DEFENDER HEADS HOME
|12'||GOOOOOOAAAAAAAL FOR REAL MADRID!!! Ozil whips the free kick to the near post and Ramos, who won the free kick, bullets a header into the corner!! 2-0!|
| THE SPAIN STAR SEES RED
|17'||Ramos is sent off!! The Madrid captain is shown a second yellow card for a handball to the left of the box! Two of the softest bookings you will ever see!|
The experiment had shown plenty of promise and, as La Liga slips from the champions' clutches with every passing week, Mourinho now has all eyes on the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
In Europe, Alvaro Arbeloa (suspended on Sunday) saw much of the ball in Madrid's last 16 first-leg match against Manchester United on Wednesday. However, his influence was negligible going forward and Mourinho is considering a return for Ramos at right-back in the second match at Old Trafford - a move which will give Madrid extra effervescence on a night when they simply must score. And although the test lasted just 17 minutes on Sunday, it worked well, especially as Ramos raced down the right to win the free kick from which he himself headed home the second goal.
Kaka also staked a claim for a place in the starting sides to face Barcelona on February 26 in the Copa del Rey and against United the following week in Europe. The Brazilian has been used less than any other first-team footballer by Mourinho this term and the Portuguese was unhappy the playmaker held out for high wages instead of moving on in January. But on Sunday he proved a constant threat with his passing and movement from a central position and also worked incredibly hard in defence. He may just be useful at a time when Luka Modric (also suspended on Sunday) is still struggling to settle, Xabi Alonso is battling for full fitness and Mesut Ozil continues to blow hot and cold.
To his credit, the German also put in a polished performance against Rayo, although Real's recital was cut short by referee Jose Luis Paradas Romero, whose dreadful dismissal of fellow Andalusian Ramos ended Madrid's dominance, not to mention the entertainment for the home supporters expecting to see a vanquishing victory from their team.
What they did see, however, will have encouraged them and Mourinho, too. Madrid had been 2-0 up after just 11 minutes and had Ramos stayed on, the final scoreline would have been far less flattering for the visitors.
Mourinho will now likely lose Ramos to suspension (unless an appeal is successful) for the game against Deportivo La Coruna next weekend. A Copa and Liga double versus Barcelona comes next, before the trip to Manchester the following week. So Mourinho must decide whether he has seen enough to revert Ramos to a right-back role for those fixtures or opt to stick with Arbeloa. The rehearsal did not go to plan; the Portuguese will now hope the real thing works out rather better - whoever he picks.