Santi Solari made several bold decisions, with Bale and Marcelo on the bench for Los Blancos, but his selection was entirely vindicated.
The visitors silenced the hostile Wanda Metropolitano when Casemiro reacted to Sergio Ramos’ fine header, dispatching a bicycle kick resembling LeBron James putting away a dunk.
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But Atleti responded, with Angel Correa nudging Vinicius Jr out of the way, before sliding in Antoine Griezmann, who calmly threaded the ball between Thibaut Courtois’ legs.
The Belgian was given a torrid time throughout, with toy rats tossed in his direction whenever he ventured close to his goalline.
Real grabbed the lead again before the break, feeding Vinicius Jr once more, who is fast establishing himself as the best young player in the world. The Brazilian raced past Jose Gimenez, whose crude challenge was judged via VAR to have been committed just inside the box.
Ramos gleefully stepped up, stabbing the ball low past the imposing figure of Jan Oblak and pulling off an antagonistic celebration to rile the home fans.
And VAR was called upon once again when Alvaro Morata plucked the ball out of the sky beautifully, before a delicate finish over Courtois, which beat the desperate lunge from Ramos on the line, only for his celebrations to be cut short after replays showed the former Chelsea striker leaned just offside.
Real finished the contest when Luka Modric raced through the middle of the pitch and sent a delightful ball for Bale to gather in his stride, finishing with aplomb low into the bottom right corner and responding to abuse received from Atleti fans with his own gesture.
Thomas Partey eventually collected his second yellow card after leaving a hefty challenge on Toni Kroos, ending any hopes of a comeback.
And Vinicus Jr’s sparkling display was a highlight and his emergence adds another dimension, along with their pedigree in Europe, providing a timely reminder of this team’s ability to pace their seasons in order to peak for the latter stages of the Champions League.