The European champions transcended their domestic woes, says Tim Stannard, excitedly awaiting a big Basque party...
It might just be that La Liga Loca and everyone else with their panties in a big old bunch have got it all wrong about Real Madrid. Rather than getting into a tizz about transfers, tactical balance and other such mortal matters, LLL suspects the Santiago Bernabéu situation is beyond what many of us simple souls can comprehend.
Real Madrid have evolved, moved up a notch in the Galactic food chain, graduated to another plane of existence.
The trials and tribulations and downright tedium of domestic football are no longer of interest to an institution that has moved onto a purely European reality. After all, why raise a sweat in San Sebastian against Real Sociedad, or give two hoots against Getafe for another 100 years or so, when there are more Champions Leagues and what-not to win?
So far this season, Real Madrid have picked up the European Super Cup but lost the Spanish version. In La Liga, the team have largely both sucked and blown, but on Tuesday, Madrid did to the visiting minnows what big teams should be doing to small teams all the time: battering them.
There was no Liverpool-style scrabbling about for a late win or Juventus-style grinding results against some Swedes for the Champions League holders. Swiss visitors Basel were sent packing 5-1 with goals from all the club’s expensive big boys – Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodríguez. Even Karim Benzema looked vaguely awake as the home team piled up 13 shots on goal and 26 crosses into the area.
La Liga in Europe
The only damp patch in the 5-1 victory, with which Real Madrid reached 1000 goals in European competitions, was continued booing for Iker Casillas – and even worse, ironic cheering when saves were made. A dreary weekend plod to Deportivo next awaits a side that now travels about on clouds, hovering above the scrabble of La Liga.
By contrast, Atlético Madrid's head is down the back of La Liga’s sofa, sniffing for scraps. The Rojiblancos were beaten 3-2 at Olympiacos, led by our old friend Míchel the Manager – the former Castilla and Getafe coach, and future Real Madrid manager in two more regenerations. The blame is largely been put on debutant goalkeeper Jan Oblak, considering the Greeks only had four shots on target.
On Wednesday, Barcelona face APOEL in the Camp Nou, but what really gets the juices flowing is Athletic Bilbao – back in the Champions League after 14 years and hoping to make a better fist of the competition than the team’s Basque brothers, Real Sociedad, managed last season.
The Athletic players still have ringing in their ears from the weekend after a limp defeat to Barcelona. Tough nut Ernesto Valverde won't tolerate an similar performance as Shakhtar visit a bouncing San Mamés stuffed with fans who have been waiting a long time for this moment.
Athletic Club may be walking with the midweek gods from now until the end of the year, but their feet are still planted firmly in the soil – unlike another of Spain’s founding clubs, who have moved on to another reality.