Real Madrid’s three-match losing streak came to an unconvincing end as Los Blancos narrowly avoided disaster with a 2-1 victory over Viktoria Plzen in UEFA Champions League Group G action on Tuesday night at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.
It was Real’s first win in five matches, dating back to the September 22 home win against Espanyol, but it was far from the lopsided result most were expecting. Real showed plenty of inventiveness and guile going forward, but lacked punch in the final third, outside of Karim Benzema’s first half goal and a second half score from Marcelo.
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of questions to ask of the Real back-line, which allowed Viktoria a bulk of chances and were lucky that the Czechs failed to convert in front of goal.
Embattled manager Julen Lopetegui made a few changes from the team that lost to Levante on Saturday, with Nacho pairing with Sergio Ramos at centre-back instead of Raphael Varane and Lucas Vazquez taking up the right-back spot ahead of Adrian Odriozola. Marco Asensio and Mariano were dropped to the bench, while Benzema and Gareth Bale made returns to the starting XI.
A defensive lapse from Viktoia within the first five minutes almost gave Real an early lead when they left Ramos completely unmarked on a corner kick. Nine times out of 10 the veteran defender would have headed into goal, but on this occasion he hit the post.
The visitors weren’t without their looks at goal either and Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas had to be alert to deny Milan Petrzela after the Czech had slipped past Lucas Vazquez.
Some of the tension inside the Bernabeu was eased though when Lucas Vazquez served up an inch-perfect cross for Benzema to head in to make it 1-0.
Viktoria weren’t seeing much of the ball but when they did get into the Real half the left side of the Real defence was their clear target and on the half-hour mark it led to another chance. David Limbersky was rewarded for hard-charging over-lapping run with a well-placed pass from Petrzela only to see Limbersky just miss wide past the far post.
Viktoria goalkeeper Ales Hruska could count himself incredibly lucky after gifting a ball to Isco, who had all the time in the world to tee up a shot, yet in the end he chipped a shot wide, sparing the blushes of the visiting stopper.
Real also had a good shout for a penalty when Limbersky clearly impeded Lucas Vazquez’s path to the ball after a soft chest pass back to Hruska, but no call came from referee Orel Grinfeld.
Still, Lopetegui’s men were leaving themselves very vulnerable in the back and they were incredibly fortunate that Patrik Hrosovsky hit a shot over the crossbar when left all alone at the back post that should have been the equaliser.
The match still had the same shape early in the second stanza, and the lack of goals was starting to irk the home supporters. With each missed chance or with each Viktoria venture into the Real half, the whistles grew louder.
Real needed someone to step up and so Marcelo took things by the scruff, taking an exquisite backheel from Bale and firing into goal for a 2-0 lead.
But Real grew complacent after scoring their second in thinking that the three points were sewn up and they were in for a rude awakening when Hrosovsky polished off a nice one-two combination with a strong finish past Navas to cut the Real lead to 2-1 and send a shockwave through the Bernabeu.
Now instead of an easy final quarter-hour, every Real mis-hit or Viktoria surge forward was greeted with angst. The final minutes were insufferable for Real and it wasn’t until Grinfeld blew the final whistle that the Bernabeu could exhale providing a brief respite before Sunday’s Clasico.
2.- Real Madrid: Keylor; Lucas, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Kroos, Casemiro, Isco (Valverde, min. 54); Benzema (Mariano, min. 88), Bale (Asensio, min. 75).
1.- Viktoria Plzen: Hruska; Reznik, Hejda, Hubnik, Limbersky; Hrosovsky, Prochazka (Horava, min. 65); Havel (Ekpai, min. 76), Cermak, Petrzela (Reznicek, min. 86); Krmencik.
Goals: 1-0, min. 11: Benzema; 2-0, min. 56: Marcelo; 2-1, min. 79: Hrosovsky.
Referee: Orel Grinfeld (Israel).
Yellow cards: Limbersky (Min. 27) for Viktoria Plzen, Isco (Min. 32) for Real Madrid, Kroos (Min. 59) for Real Madrid, Ramos (Min. 94) for Real Madrid.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: Santiago Bernabeu.
Watch the goals and highlights bellow: