Real Madrid began the defense of their Champions League crown with an emphatic 5-1 win over Basel to ease the early season gloom around the Bernabeu. An own goal from Basel defender Marek Suchy began the scoring after just 14 minutes before further first-half goals from Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, and James Rodriguez put the hosts in complete control. A fine strike by Derlis Gonzalez before the interval provided the Swiss champions with a minor cheer, but Karim Benzema struck after the break to ensure an emphatic win for a team looking to become the first club to retain the European Club in the Champions League era.
There is still some way to go before that becomes a reality, but this was a much-needed win for Real Madrid and manager Carlo Ancelotti. With criticism of the club’s summer transfer business being fired in from all quarters, Madrid had followed up a 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad with a painful home loss to the team they beat in dramatic fashion in last year’s Champions League final, local rivals Atletico Madrid. Already their hopes of winning La Liga has taken a major blow.
There was no evidence of a hangover from the weekend’s result on Tuesday, however. Madrid were given an ideal start when Nacho, who had been brought into the side in place of Alvaro Arbeloa as part of the fallout from the Atletico loss, put a cross in from the right that deflected off Suchy and past his Czech compatriot in goal, Tomas Vaclik. Two goals in as many minutes after half an hour essentially made the points safe ahead of matches to come in the group against Ludogorets and Liverpool.
The second goal was more pleasing on the eye. Luka Modric delivered a sublime pass over the top of the Basel defense with the outside of his right foot to get Bale in the clear. There was no catching the flying Welshman, who lifted the ball high over the onrushing goalkeeper before touching in from close range. Seconds later, the two former Tottenham players combined once more. This time Modric slipped Bale in down the right of the box and the forward’s low cross was perfect for Ronaldo to steer the ball into the net.
Rodriguez, a €80 million arrival from Monaco, has become the symbol for the changes made by Real Madrid that many feel were unwise following their long-awaited claiming of “La Decima.” It was encouraging then that the Colombian got in on the act for his first European goal in a Madrid shirt. Ronaldo squared the ball for Benzema, whose deflected shot was saved well by Vaclik, but Rodriguez reacted fastest to turn home the rebound.
A goal for Paraguayan 20-year-old Gonzalez, after bursting past Sergio Ramos and firing in from the edge of the box, exposed some of Madrid’s defensive struggles and probably deserved better than to be more than just a consolation. But that’s all it was ever going to be. The second half had far less incident but was enlivened in style by a fifth goal for Real Madrid 11 minutes from the end. After a gloriously swift exchange of passes with Ronaldo on the edge of the area, Benzema blasted a left-footed shot in off the underside of the crossbar.