Football: Madrid open the floodgates at long last with goal flurry in Plzen
But it is not all positive for Los Blancos as Ramos produces a wild elbow
Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale led the way for Real Madrid as they battered Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.
Top versus bottom met in Group G and a predictably one-sided contest followed – unlike the nervy 2-1 reverse win put in by Los Blancos as Julen Lopetegui’s reign unravelled.
Here is the report card from Doosan Arena.
Madrid travelled east with criticism ringing in their ears from the weekend’s unsightly – and fortunate – triumph against Real Valladolid.
They wasted little time in providing a retort. Karim Benzema artfully danced clear for the opener, prior to a pair of headers from Brazil anchorman Casemiro and the aforementioned French striker, plus maligned Wales forward Gareth Bale’s volley.
The best was saved for the second half. Substitute Vinicius Junior charged clear and played in Germany metronome Toni Kroos, who delicately lobbed a first-time effort.
A wild, early elbow from skipper Sergio Ramos was the only negative.
Before Wednesday night’s walkover, Benzema and Bale had contributed just nine goals to the Madrid cause in 2018/19.
A paltry return for a team that has lost the crushing weight of numbers produced by now-Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Little wonder that then-misfiring Bale exited Santiago Bernabeu during the weekend’s difficult 2-0 win against Valladolid to a cascade of boos.
The pair were back to their predatory best against Plzen. Benzema skipped through for a delightful opener – a landmark 200th goal for Madrid – and headed in the third, with Bale also profited aerially to make it 4-0.
If caretaker Santiago Solari’s only lasting imprint is a revitalisation of this duo, he’ll have done his job.
A trail of bloodied and broken opponents seem to follow Ramos.
The veteran centre-back was highly fortunate to escape a 25th red card for Madrid when a wild – and unnecessary – elbow made brutal contact with Milan Havel’s nose in the 13th minute. The midfielder instantly crumpled to his knees as claret poured out and the perpetrator feigned typical innocence.
Severe punishment should have followed.
Ramos, consequentially, got away with the ‘chicken wing’ that damaged Mohamed Salah’s shoulder and the wild elbow that dazed Loris Karius in last term’s Champions League final versus Liverpool.
This pattern of violent behaviour was established more than a decade ago. Why referees are now letting him off is unacceptable.
Tactical turning point
Solari’s past as a winger of some repute has been highly visible during his three-game, temporary, Madrid reign.
More than 40 crosses were pumped in during the fortunate victory against Valladolid upon his La Liga bow. Criticism for this approach was just as plentiful.
The ex-Argentina international could easily have folded in the face of such opprobrium. Yet, when a star-studded midfield still has the propensity to play as if wading through treacle, a reductive approach is required.
Against Plzen, Casemiro scored direct from a corner, plus Bale and Benzema struck a header and volley apiece.
It’s rarely pretty. But it is effective.
All smiles: Real Madrid’s season to forget experienced a rare high point in the Czech Republic.