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UEFA Champions League 2014: Real Madrid Blast Basel 5-1, Start Decima Defense In Style

Real Madrid began defense of their European Championship by cooly thrashing FC Basel 5-1 in front of the Bernabeu faithful. No whistles were heard (at least I couldn't hear them in DC) as Los Blancos strolled to a 4-0 lead and never looked back.

Denis Doyle

Real attacked with abandon down each flank, initially seeming to favor the right, as Cristiano Ronaldo appeared there numerous times after switching positions with Gareth Bale. As the two become more comfortable, they've been able to interchange effortlessly causing beautiful chaos within defenses used to Cristiano cutting in exclusively from the left.

WhoScored speculated that Basel could've employed a 4-1-4-1, rather than the three man backline they typically use domestically. They seemed to veer between the two, sometimes having as many as seven men defending the box. It was all for naught, though, as Madrid's width, pace and fluidity quickly proved too much for the outclassed Swiss side.

Interestingly enough, Basel (initially) seemed to have the better of play in the center of the pitch, enjoying stretches of possession but never able to decisively exploit Real's jittery defense. Then like a flash Nacho, who turned in an extremely solid performance in place of the injured Dani Carvajal, broke down the right and found James Rodriguez. The dynamic Colombian playmaker instinctively returned an ultra-slick backheel to Nacho who launched a shot that caromed in off the unlucky Marek Suchy to give Real 1-0 lead.

Minutes later, Luka Modric produced an absolutely gorgeous ball from the outside of his right boot that hit Gareth Bale in full-stride. Bale, a blur of touch and pace, controlled beautifully, playfully chipping the ball past Tomas Vaclik before angling it home with a deft strike. It was a devastating piece of play that saw Basel washed away from the ocean of tears suddenly streaming in from the wrong side of North London. Modric roamed further and further forward, yet still was able to spray damaging balls all over the pitch.

It was a truly towering performance from the Croatian international. Modric instigated the next strike as well, picking out another sublime, sliderule pass to Bale who tore down the right and hit a lovely cross for CR7 to finish, making it 3-0 after just 33 minutes. To put this in perspective, Basel have only scored 11 times in their entire Champions League history. To earn a draw they would have had to equal virtually a quarter of their entire previous UCL output.

The true depth and danger of this nascent Real Madrid attack was illustrated as the Four Horsemen (WOOO!): Karim Benzema, Bale, Cristiano and James all combined to manufacture goal number four. Bale found Cristiano who tormented a few hapless Basel defenders in the box before spotting Benzema who pounded Vaclik with a ferocious shot that the onrushing James cleaned up for an easy score.

Basel, whose overall spirit and positivity should acknowledged and commended, answered right away. Sergio Ramos was lost at sea, floating in the center of the pitch, while Derlis Gonzales sliced in behind him to score easily. It was a timely warning that despite the incredible, almost boundless, attacking power Real possess there are still alarmingly persistent defensive lapses that short-circuit this team in crucial moments. On the plus-side, no set-piece goals were conceded.

With such a comfortable lead, Madrid played with cruise-control psychology through most of the second half. Basel were actually able to threaten a handful of times but (thankfully) were wasteful. It's hard to judge or even criticize the defense too much because the match was essentially over before the half--but a troubling lack of cohesion and concentration remains apparent.

Cristiano and Big Benz played a mesmerizing one-two that resulted in Benzema scorching the net with a stone-cold stunner to stylishly close the book on an emphatic 5-1 victory.

It was a performance that accomplished everything it needed too, simply put.

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