Real Madrid make Champions League statement with opening-day Gala show
Istanbul is probably not Carlo Ancelotti's favourite place. The Italian coach famously saw his AC Milan side self-destruct from 3-0 up in the Turkish metropolis and lose the Champions League final to Liverpool on penalties in 2005, but back in the same city on Tuesday the 54-year-old's Madrid made their mark on Europe's elite competition with a vanquishing victory at Galatasaray.
Still sore after the 2005 defeat, Ancelotti told Madrid midfielder (and former Liverpool player) Xabi Alonso on the first day of training at Real: "You owe me a Champions League!" But the Italian may just have better memories of Istanbul following Tuesday's thrashing - a Gala show which sets the Spanish side up for their latest tilt at La Decima. And in some style.
The 6-1 scoreline did not truly reflect the play, but it will nevertheless send shockwaves through the competition. Galatasaray gave as good as they got in the first half and were arguably the better team until Isco's special strike made it 1-0 after 33 minutes, while Karim Benzema added another nine minutes after the interval. That spelled the end of the game as a contest, but Madrid then turned the screw late in the match with four more goals. No mercy.But however bad the home side's defending, few teams travel to the Turkish city and emerge with such a convincing win. At what is a notoriously hostile and difficult destination for visiting teams, Madrid made a real statement of intent on Tuesday in a competition they are so desperate to win.
Following the immense investment over the summer, club president Florentino Perez is under pressure to deliver La Decima to the Spanish side, nine times winners of the most prestigious tournament in European football but without the famous trophy since 2002.
Madrid had been on the ropes at Galatasaray in the quarter-finals of last season's competition, while unconvincing away games this season at Granada (a 1-0 win) and Villarreal (a 2-2 draw on Saturday) recently raised doubts ahead of this clash.
Ancelotti has spoken of a lack of balance in midfield and at times on Tuesday that was still apparent. Sami Khedira offered increased protection to the back four, while Luka Modric pulled the strings from deep, yet Madrid still saw themselves overrun during parts of the opening 45 minutes.
Fortunately for them, however, Galatasaray were wasteful, while Iker Casillas and subsequently Diego Lopez (who replaced the injured club captain after just 13 minutes) made fine saves. And at the other end, Madrid's attacking might proved too much for Fatih Terim's team.
Benzema showed he can add hard work to his excellent technique as he chased down balls and pressed from the front, earning his double on what was one of his finest performances away from home in a Madrid shirt.
Elsewhere, Isco again made light of the departure of Mesut Ozil as he struck a sweet strike in the first half and assisted another for Cristiano Ronaldo in the second. Angel di Maria also provided two assists, while Ronaldo hit a hat-trick which included a quite brilliant third in a week which began with news of his fresh five-year deal with the Spanish side.
"When Benzema and Ronaldo play like that, it is easy," Ancelotti enthused afterwards. And Cristiano was also content. "It is the best possible start," the Portuguese said. "It gives us a lot of confidence." Europe's top teams would do well to take note.