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Crisis-hit Real Madrid in need of Basel bounceback

By Agence France-Presse in Madrid (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-16 09:12

Having finally ended a 12-year wait to land its 10th European Cup, few imagined Real Madrid would start its defense of the Champions League in a state of crisis.

Less than four months after beating city rival Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra time in the final in Lisbon, Real is in need of a strong response when Swiss champion Basel visits the Spanish capital on Tuesday after Atletico inflicted its second consecutive league defeat with a 2-1 victory in Saturday's derby.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti bemoaned afterwards that his side has not yet found the right balance following the sales of key midfielders Angel di Maria and Xabi Alonso late in the transfer window.

However, it was captain Iker Casillas who was on the receiving end of most of the criticism from the home fans as he was roundly booed after conceding for the third time in two games from a set piece.

"The fans always know best and if they think they have to boo then you have to accept it and respect their opinion," said Casillas.

"The way to respond is training well and playing football."

Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez will make their Champions League debuts for the club despite both World Cup stars failing to fill the shoes of Alonso and di Maria in their short stints at the club so far.

Casillas, though, remains confident Real has the players to turn its current loss of form around having also recovered from a poor start last season to win the Copa del Rey as well as the Champions League.

"This is a champion and winning team. Our commitment to each other is infinite," he said. "We have won titles as recently as a few months ago and this is a situation where Real Madrid, with the players we have, is capable of turning things around."

Rightback Dani Carvajal remains Real's only injury absentee but Raphael Varane, Isco and Asier Illarramendi could all come into the side that lost to Atletico.

And Costa Rican 'keeper Keylor Navas could even be handed his debut should Ancelotti choose to use different stoppers in the league and Champions League, as he did last season.

Real will be confident of a return to winning ways based on its previous meetings against Swiss opposition as it has won all 10 matches, scoring 42 goals and conceding just twice in the process.

By contrast, Basel will have bad memories of Spain as its European campaign last season ended with a 5-0 thrashing by Valencia in the Europa League quarterfinals despite a 3-0 first-leg lead.

The Swiss side has also lost key players over the summer as goalkeeper Yann Sommer and midfielder Valentin Stocker moved to the Bundesliga with Borussia Moenchengladbach and Hertha Berlin respectively, while coach Murat Yakin departed to be replaced by Paulo Sousa.

However, it has added Champions League-winning experience to the defense in the form of former Madrid and Inter Milan centerback Walter Samuel, the Argentine who is now 36.

(China Daily 09/16/2014 page24)

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