Real Madrid will be hoping for some relief from a difficult start to the season when they begin their Champions League campaign against Swiss champions Basel at the Bernabeu. Madrid could hardly have endured worse preparation for the start of their quest to become the first team to retain the European Cup in the Champions League era than going down 2-1 at home to the team that they beat in the Champions League final in Lisbon four months ago, local rivals Atlético Madrid. For Carlo Ancelotti’s men it was a second-straight La Liga defeat and raised further questions about the summer makeover to a squad that won the long awaited "La Decima" last season.
Out of the Bernabeu has gone the Man of the Match in Lisbon, Ángel di María, along with another player who added key balance to the team and its undoubted attacking talent, Xabi Alonso. In their stead, James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos have arrived but, despite, being immensely gifted individuals, few could claim that they are a better fit with the talent already at the club. It is hard to imagine Ancelotti was particularly thrilled with the club’s transfer dealings, yet he unsurprisingly continues to stand by the decisions, and especially his €80 million Colombian.
“I am very happy that James is here,” he said, according to Spanish publication AS. “Everything that we have done we have done as a club. I repeat; I wouldn’t swap my squad for any other in Europe. We have to get used to new players and try to play with more spontaneity. We have players who didn’t arrive until the end of August and we haven’t had much time to train with them. They need time.”
Ancelotti has other problems besides, including a continuing scrutiny over the goalkeeper position. After Diego Lopez left for Milan, captain Iker Casillas has returned to being the team’s No. 1 in all competitions, following a season in which he was just used in the cups and Champions League. Yet, while not directly at fault, Casillas was the target of boos from a section of Real Madrid fans after Atlético Madrid’s opening goal. Despite Costa Rican Keylor Navas waiting in the wings, Ancelotti insisted Casillas has his full support.
“Casillas has experience and character,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily Marca. “He knows what's what and will have no problem sorting things out. As far as I'm concerned, the matter is closed. I want to be clear: there is no goalkeeper debate within the squad and I'm not going to add fuel to the [media] discussion. I'm not going to talk about the keepers this season.”
Ancelotti believes that the match comes at the ideal time to give his team the chance to bounce back. And the opposition could be worse, too, with Basel coming into the match on the back of their own domestic problems. The Swiss champions for the last five seasons have now lost two of their last four Swiss Super League matches to fall a point behind FC Zurich after eight matches. Perhaps such results are unsurprising at this stage given that the club lost successful coach Murat Yakin in the summer, as well as key players, goalkeeper Yann Sommer and forward Valentin Stocker. Still, the club’s new boss, former Portugal international Paulo Sousa, has inherited the basis of a squad that has plenty of recent European experience, having reached the last 16 of the Champions League and the semifinals and then quarterfinals of the Europa League in the last three seasons. To the squad, Sousa has added, among others, veteran Argentinean defender Walter Samuel, who played at the Bernabeu for a season a decade ago.
Prediction: The defeat to Atlético summed up the problems at Real Madrid. In the first half they overwhelmed their opponents going forward, with Cristiano Ronaldo, in particular, in superb form. But after that storm was weathered, Madrid faded badly after the interval and then lacked any foundation to fall back upon. Their lack of midfield balance was all too evident in Atletico’s winner. Basel are unlikely to be able to emerge from a similar Madrid onslaught as relatively unscathed as Atlético and it should ultimately be enough to defeat the Swiss side. But, although they have lost the key wide threats of Stocker and Mohamed Salah since they narrowly missed out on the Champions League last 16 a season ago, Basel could still take advantage of Madrid’s failings to keep the match close.
Real Madrid 2-1 Basel
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN Deportes