Given Real Madrid‘s woeful form in front of goal for much of this season, an emphatic 5-0 victory over Viktoria Plzen was much welcomed and also presented Santiago Solari with his best argument yet in his quest to be appointed on a permanent basis.
Even though the goal-fest came against inferior opposition, it was a win and performance Los Blancos desperately needed in order to continue defending their Champions League crown past the group stages. It was also particularly impressive because it seemed to definitively close the chapter on Julen Lopetegui’s ill-fated stint as Madrid manager.
Having taken over in the summer, the Spaniard was dismissed following a run of just one win in seven games during which time the team suffered a goal drought that lasted more than eight hours.
Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in particular came under heavy criticism during that time – even though the latter struggled with injuries – but both were on the scoresheet against Plzen. It means Madrid have now scored 11 goals in Solari’s three games in charge but just as crucially, have conceded none at the other end.
In doing so, Solari became the first Madrid manager since Luis Carniglia in 1957 to not concede a goal in his first three games in the dugout.
It must be noted that these victories and clean sheets have come against Plzen in Europe, Real Valladolid in La Liga and third-tier Melilla in the Copa del Rey – hardly the most testing run of fixtures. However, it’s equally noteworthy that it was against ostensibly inferior opposition that Madrid’s most disappointing performances came under Lopetegui.
Also take into account that in such turbulent times, taking over a side in disarray, Solari didn’t have the luxury of naming his first-choice back four. Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane all suffered injuries shortly before the former Madrid player assumed control.
In fact, the only member of that rearguard he’s been able to call upon is captain Sergio Ramos, the most experienced of the lot no doubt but also the most suspect so far this season. Solari has partnered the World Cup-winning defender with Nacho while the young Alvaro Odriozola, barely utilised under Lopetegui, has deputised at right-back. Sergio Reguilon, promoted from Castilla, has made his first appearances for the senior side on the opposite flank.
To get a defence that’s being held together by tape and glue to keep three clean sheets on the bounce – largely without incident – is no mean feat but Solari, in his calm and assured way, has managed to do so with aplomb.
The 42-year-old coach must also be credited for his decisiveness over matters that plagued Lopetegui’s spell, slowly gnawing away at the first team’s sore spots until it was engulfed by malaise.
Following a summer arrival from Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois was immediately thrust under the microscope with his every misstep and hesitation scrutinised. It led to heated debate over whether he deserved to be the first-choice keeper given that Keylor Navas remained a consistent performer.
Lopetegui seemed to succumb to outside pressure and never identified his preferred custodian, awkwardly rotating the two keepers which couldn’t have done the defence any favours. Solari appears to have no reservations over Courtois, playing the Belgian in the La Liga and Champions League games after Navas started against Melilla.
He also showed no hesitation in giving Vinicius Junior a role in the first team. The 18-year-old has impressed under Solari in performances for the Castilla side but was denied opportunities in the first team by Lopetegui. Solari has given the Brazilian his chance off the bench and it’s paid dividends. Vinicius’ deflected effort broke the deadlock against Valladolid while he provided an assist against Plzen.
According to Spanish football regulations, Solari can only remain as an interim coach for 15 days. That means Madrid will have to make a decision after Sunday’s La Liga trip to Celta Vigo.
Should he pass that test as well, there’s nothing more that could be expected from his audition for the full-time job. Whether his success will prove enough to sway Florentino Perez is a different matter. The club president may yet opt for a more accomplished manager but momentum is not to be meddled with and as of now, Madrid have it in Solari.
Real Madrid interim boss Santiago Solari insisted the Champions League hammering of Viktoria Plzen was about the players rather than him.
Real have won all three matches since Solari took over from Julen Lopetegui, leading to speculation that his stay in the hotseat may not be temporary after all.
After a sticky opening 15 minutes in which Nacho hit his own bar, Real were rampant in a 5-0 victory. They were four up at half-time thanks to a brace from Karim Benzema and one each from Casemiro and Gareth Bale, with Toni Kroos adding a delightful chip in the second half.
Solari said on uefa.com: “It’s impossible to win 5-0 away in the Champions League and not play a great game. I’m very happy but this was all about the players – we have some brilliant players here who have no limits.
“The players deserve this and focus now switches to the next match. We came into the game fully focused and it showed. We have the players here to score lots of goals and that’s what we did.”
Some of the old Real swagger was evident again, albeit against opponents who allowed the defending champions far too much space in the box and were horribly exposed from set-pieces.
That was most evident for Casemiro’s header, and the midfielder said: “It was an important night for us. We’ve scored five times and this result will give us confidence.
“On other days we created chances like tonight but didn’t take them. Real Madrid is the most demanding club in the world and you always have to win here.”
It was a landmark night for Benzema, whose first goal was his 200th for the club.
The Frenchman has not always been appreciated by Real’s fans, and he said: “I play football to make history. Sometimes people don’t really understand what I do on the pitch. I’m there to help my team-mates as well as score goals. For me the important thing always is winning.”
Plzen were unfortunate to lose at the Bernabeu two weeks ago but found themselves heavily beaten for the second time in the Champions League this season following their 5-0 defeat by Roma.
Defender Lukas Hejda said: “Real did not underestimate us from the very first moment and they were a bit more aggressive than in Madrid. We conceded four goals in the first half and the match was over.
“Real proved their quality. We conceded three goals after set-pieces, which were a bit cheap. But we still wanted to play forwards, did not want to only defend.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Real Madrid turned on the style in the Czech Republic as they put five past hapless Viktoria Plzen.
The Czech champions had the visitors on the back-foot for the first 15 minutes before Karim Benzema scored against the run of play and opened the floodgates.
Here are our player ratings for the game:
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1)
Thibaut Courtois 7: Was barely tested during the game. Responded well whenever he was called upon.
Sergio Reguilon 7: Promising performance from the youngster, linked up well with Bale and fulfilled his defensive duties too.
Sergio Ramos 6: Was dominated for the first quarter hour but recovered well, though planted Milan Havel with nasty elbow. Substituted early on in the second half.
Nacho 6: Looked out of sorts at first and almost scored an own goal. Looked more confident and composed after Madrid got the lead.
Alvaro Odriozola 6: An improvement from his performance against Real Valladolid. Still needs to work on his positioning.
Casemiro 7: Good performance at the heart of midfield, controlled the flow of the game well and scored.
Toni Kroos 8: One of his best performance from recent times. An assist and a beautiful goal to mark it.
Lucas Vazquez 5: Needs to do better if he has to cement his position in the line-up. Went anonymous more often than not.
Dani Ceballos 6: Quiet game from the youngster, went missing at times, but nothing to worry about.
Gareth Bale 8: Looked threatening at times, scored a goal and provided one more. Great performance overall.
Karim Benzema 9: Near-perfect performance gets a near-perfect score. Two goals and an assist to his name.
Vinicius Jr 7: Threatening on the left, got an assist to his name but was caught offside too often.
Isco 6: Took a central role after he came on in the second half. Failed to produce anything significant.
Javi Sanchez 7: Wasn’t tested until the last 10 minutes or so, but not with much intent.