Pepe in midfield, Essien at right-back
If Real Madrid's starting XI in the 2-1 win against Barcelona was predictable enough, the way they were distributed brought a surprise. Rather than partnering Raphaël Varane at centre-back with Sergio Ramos on the right, Pepe was employed in midfield. It is a role that José Mourinho has handed him before, most notably against Barcelona in the Champions League two years ago, but it is one that appeared to have been left behind.
This, though, looked like preparation for next week. Pepe added an extra screen in front of the back four. Largely, though, he was a bystander as Barcelona played the ball in front of him, with little of the aggression that often typifies him, none of those "raids" from deep. When he did step forward to rob the ball from Thiago and look to set up a counter, Thiago brought him down. It was something he would do more often after the introduction of Sami Khedira. It was then that he produced the wonderful pass from which Alvaro Morata should probably have scored.
Ramos at centre-back suggested that he will also be in that position at Old Trafford, and not at right-back as Mourinho had contemplated. Alvaro Arbeloa, left on the bench, does seem a more logical right-back than Michael Essien, but when it came to his introduction, it was the left-back Fábio Coentrão who was withdrawn, not Essien.
Ramos is always a threat
Alex Ferguson would have known this already but there was another demonstration here that there may be no more dangerous defender around when it comes to attacking at the other end. His headed goal proved the winner.
Even Ronaldo needs a rest – or does he?
Before the first leg against Manchester United, Mourinho decided not to rest Cristiano Ronaldo and the gamble, if that is what it was, paid off: Ronaldo played an hour and departed, injury-free, to a standing ovation having scored a hat-trick against Sevilla. This time Ronaldo was left out. The roar that accompanied him as he left the bench to warm up showed how much they had missed him. So did his first intervention: a run at Gerard Piqué. And all that came next. He'll be there at Old Trafford. Madrid are a different side with him; if they are Popeye, he is a can of spinach.
Benzema or Higuaín?
Mourinho did not leave his bench often. One of the few times that he did was to signal to Karim Benzema, thumping his fist into the palm of the other hand, demanding greater aggression. It is a familiar lament and one of the reasons why Mourinho has opted more for Gonzalo Higuaín of late. The goal will have helped Benzema's case to be included in Manchester but, withdrawn for Ronaldo on 58 minutes, his performance may not have done.