Lopetegui still in Real peril af­ter can­cel­ing Czechs But boss in­sists CL vic­tory over Plzen could be ‘turn­ing point’

China Daily (Canada) - - SPORTS -

MADRID — It might not be enough to save Julen Lopetegui’s job, but Real Madrid’s 2-1 Cham­pi­ons League win over Vik­to­ria Plzen stopped the rot and re­stored some be­lief.

Barcelona is next at Camp Nou, and even with­out the in­jured Lionel Messi, Madrid is un­likely to find its great ri­val as gen­er­ous as Czech side Plzen was on Tues­day night.

But af­ter five games with­out a win, and three losses in a row, vic­tory was all-im­por­tant, and Madrid se­cured it with goals in each half from Karim Ben­zema and Marcelo.

It could have been more straight­for­ward and when Pa­trik Hrosovsky pulled one back for Plzen with 12 min­utes left, a tense fi­nale en­sued.

When it was over, there were dis­grun­tled whis­tles from the home fans.

“I would have liked to achieve a more com­fort­able vic­tory, but the im­por­tant thing is the three points,” Lopetegui said. “It can be a turn­ing point.”

Madrid held on to re­assert it­self in Group G, where the reign­ing cham­pion is now tied with Roma at six points.

Whether Lopetegui is still in charge for the re­turn match in the Czech Repub­lic next month re­mains to be seen, although he was con­fi­dent he would still be at the helm against Barca.

“I am ab­so­lutely con­vinced of that, yes,” he said.

“We are go­ing to turn this around. What I’ve learned about this club is to fight, that is the DNA of this club. That’s what we’re go­ing to do, fight.”

Real pres­i­dent Florentino Perez might well have al­ready made up his mind to make a change, with re­ports sug­gest­ing for­mer Chelsea and Italy boss An­to­nio Conte is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

That ap­point­ment could scup­per Madrid’s chances of sign­ing Eden Hazard be­cause of the Bel­gian play­maker’s strained re­la­tion­ship with Conte at Chelsea.

There is also the ques­tion of tim­ing.

Barcelona would be a cruel open­ing as­sign­ment for a new coach while los­ing a Cla­sico could also kill any po­ten­tial bounce ef­fect.

In what could have been a mes­sage to the board, Lopetegui left all four of the club’s sum­mer sign­ings on the bench, in­clud­ing Al­varo Odri­o­zola, who was re­placed at right­back by Lucas Vazquez.

There was gen­tle ap­plause when the coach’s name was an­nounced be­fore kick­off, and Madrid’s play­ers started like they were try­ing to save him, too.

Ser­gio Ramos headed over and then against the post, but if Real was eager on at­tack, it was just as nervy on de­fense.

Key­lor Navas jabbed a dif­fi­cult pass straight out of play and then had to make a save as Mi­lan Petrzela raced in be­hind Vazquez.

Af­ter weeks of shoddy fin­ish­ing, Madrid then made it look easy. Vazquez crossed to the back post, where the lively Ben­zema nod­ded in from a yard.

Ben­zema and Isco should have fin­ished off Plzen, but Ben­zema opted to shoot when a pass would have pro­duced a tap-in — much to the frus­tra­tion of Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos.

Plzen could have pun­ished the host as David Lim­ber­sky’s chip floated wide be­fore Petrzela feath­ered over from two yards. It was a dread­ful miss and spared the blushes of Marcelo, who had sold him­self on the op­po­site flank.

Marcelo’s de­fen­sive frail­ties have al­ways come with an at­tack­ing ben­e­fit, and his lifted fin­ish in the 55th minute gave Madrid the breath­ing space it craved. Bale’s deft touch had sent the Brazil­ian clear in the box.

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