Liverpool supporters who took one look at the Real Madrid score on Tuesday and feared for their team in the two games the sides will play in late October, early November need not be so concerned. Madrid could have scored seven but they could also have conceded four or five.
They played with seven offensive players against FC Basel and only three whose inclination is naturally defensive.
In part that was because of Basel’s weakness but it also owed a lot to the inherent imbalance in the squad that will not be remedied by 22 October, when Madrid play at Anfield.
It worked against the Swiss, as the Spanish club won 5-1, but it is not a serious formula against a team that can counter-attack as well as Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side.
The Reds also face a club struggling to keep the fans onside.
Iker Casillas was presented with a trophy marking his 15 years in the Madrid first team before the game.
The silver replica of the Plaza de Cibeles fountain, where the club traditionally go to celebrate trophy triumphs, was handed to the goalkeeper by Real’s president, Florentino Perez, deep within the corridors of the Bernabeu.
It could not be presented on the pitch because the jeers from the fans would have been too embarrassing.
Imagine Steven Gerrard being handed a lifetime achievement award in a broom cupboard at Anfield for fear of resounding boos rolling down from the Kop.
Casillas is not the player he once was, though even in his current manifestation he is still a lot more able than most of his goalkeeping peers. His one-on-one save in the second half against Basel’s striker Derlis Gonzalez was typical of a decade and a half of service during which he has won every honour imaginable. It was greeted by loud applause from his own supporters, who did their best to drown out the jeers throughout the game. Gareth Bale probably scratches his head at the treatment – when he is not wondering why autograph hunters try to kick his car when he drives away from the club’s Valdebebas training ground if he does not stop for them.
Unconditional adulation for the Welshman for having played a major part in helping Madrid win the Champions League has lasted all of three months.
Carlo Ancelotti has also been given some “advice”, passed down to the manager from on high, that he should use Bale in his midfield three to compensate for the loss of Angel Di Maria – an unfathomable request to move the player further from target after he scored winning goals in the Spanish Cup and Champions League finals last season. Karim Benzema was also whistled at every turn against Basel – even after scoring Real’s fifth.
If Liverpool, as expected, come to Spain in November with a fiercely united front and the full backing of their fans, they will already have one over on their rivals.
In recent weeks some commentators have suggested Raheem Sterling is “good enough to end up at Real Madrid”, as if signing for the richest club in the world were some sort of gauge on how good a player’s career has been.
If the Liverpool winger does keep developing and becomes an option for the Spaniards as they eventually try to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, he would do well to remember the whole package that comes with being a Madrid star. Support through thick and thin is not one of the perks.
One well-connected radio journalist reported that one player told team-mates before Tuesday’s game he would have preferred to play in Switzerland than at home – some way to kick off the new campaign as reigning champions.