Madrid - It might not be enough to save Julen Lopetegui but
Real Madrid's 2-1 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday stopped
the rot and restored some belief.
Barcelona are next at Camp Nou and even without the injured
Lionel Messi, Madrid are unlikely to find them as generous if handed the sort
of golden chances Plzen were presented with at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But after five games without a win, and three defeats in a
row, victory was all-important, and Madrid secured it with a goal in each half
from Karim Benzema and Marcelo.
It could have been more comfortable and when Patrik
Hrosovsky pulled one back for Plzen with 12 minutes left, a nervy finale
ensued. When it was over, there were disgruntled whistles from the home fans.
Lopetegui's side held on, however, to reassert themselves in
Group G, where the reigning champions now sit level on six points with Roma.
Whether he is still in charge for the return fixture in the
Czech Republic next month remains to be seen.
Florentino Perez may well have already made up his mind to
make a change but there is still the question of timing.
Barcelona would be a cruel opening assignment for a new
coach while defeat in a Clasico, perhaps a heavy one, could also kill any
Instead, Lopetegui was still on the touchline here, cajoling
and clapping as his team created, and missed, more chances. Wincing as Plzen
also squandered theirs.
He left all four of the club's summer signings on the bench
including Alvaro Odriozola, who was replaced at right-back by Lucas Vazquez.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, or perhaps a message to the board.
There was gentle applause when Lopetegui's name was
announced before kick-off and Madrid's players started like they were trying
for him too.
Sergio Ramos headed over and then against the post when
twice allowed to run free but if they were eager up front, they were nervy at
the back too.
Keylor Navas jabbed a difficult pass straight out of play
and then had to make a save, as Milan Petrzela raced in behind Vazquez and was
denied on the angle by Navas' thigh.
After weeks of agonising about scoring, Madrid then made it
look easy. Vazquez, more comfortable going forward, chipped a cross to the back
post, where the lively Benzema timed his run perfectly and nodded in from a
Benzema and Isco both should have doubled the lead but opted
to shoot when a pass would have given a tap-in. Bale and Toni Kroos each threw
their arms up in frustration.
Plzen could have punished them as David Limbersky's chip
floated wide before Petrzela feathered over from two yards with only Navas to
beat. It was a dreadful miss and spared the blushes of Marcelo, who had sold
himself on the opposite flank.
The full-back was absent again at the start of the second
half when Milan Havel failed to connect with a cross to the back post.
But Marcelo's defensive frailties have always come with an
attacking benefit and his chipped finish in the 55th minute gave Madrid the breathing
space they craved. Bale's deft touch had sent him clear in the box.
Bale was freed by Benzema but his finish was blocked and
Luka Modric's scooped through ball suggested Madrid were even enjoying
themselves, as Bale joined Isco in being substituted.
Plzen, however, had other ideas and after Hrosovsky was
allowed to ghost through Madrid's midfield, he curved the ball expertly past
Navas' left hand and into the bottom corner.
Plzen smelt a point. Nacho had to hook the ball away from
Michael Krmencik in the box as Madrid grew frantic. The visiting fans were
cheering louder after full-time.