UEFA Champions League: Real’s road to redemption still seems long, and victory at Plzen would seem little more than baby steps

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‘When you put on this shirt, you know you have arrived at the very top; there’s no greater honour’, said a 19-year old Sergio Ramos, when the current Real Madrid skipper joined the club from Sevilla in 2005. Also, Sergio, when you put on the shirt, you know there’s little margin for error, little room for laxity. Too much success is still hardly enough success at the Bernabeu, and no amount of achievements can bring room to rest on your laurels, not even a bit.

Hence, the whistles the Real players received from the Bernabeu faithful on Saturday. That was the first league game under Santiago Solari, the first league game since the sacking of Julen Lopetegui, ergo the first league game, and more importantly, the first home game, since the utterly unacceptable trouncing at Barcelona in the Clasico, which, despite the hard-fought and unconvincing victory over Valladolid, fans haven’t shied away from showing their continued discontent. Which explains a celebration of defiance from Ramos himself, who scored Real’s second, from the penalty spot.

Defiance is one of things Los Blancos need at the moment. Upon his (temporary) appoint, Solari said to have found a group ‘in pain but eager to start and reverse the situation’. And if Saturday’s game offered any semblance of evidence, then the situation is quite a tough one. Not only do the European champions have ground to make up in the league – they are seven points off the top in La Liga – they also have to get the crowd back onside.

The fans don’t seem to ready to get onside at the moment, the wounds of the Clasico are no close to healing, not to talk of the scars going away; so, perhaps a Champions League game against Czech side Viktoria Plzen is the most ideal at the moment. Not because they’re less-fancied opponents. In fact, because they’re less-fancied opponents, this might feel like a no-win situation. Win, and the reaction is ‘well, it’s Plzen’, the result gets sniffed at, and its significance is downplayed, victory will still be seen as baby steps on this road to recovery. Lose, and the repercussions are unthinkable.

Rather, Plzen are the ideal opponents because it’s a game away from home, away from what seems like an angry unforgiving mob of a Bernabeu stadium right now. Playing away might suit Los Blancos at the moment, there might be less pressure, less whistles, the atmosphere is likely to be less toxic, and in truth – no disrespect to Plzen – the Czechs are less-fancied opponents.

Real’s road to redemption is long. They still have quite some penance to make. Victory at Plzen is hardly much of a positive and hardly makes much of an impact in that regard. Yet victory at Plzen is a must.

Elsewhere:

  • Life at Monaco hasn’t begun well for Thierry Henry, who still remains winless as manager of the French principality club, and recent results have seen them drop to 19th place in the league, four points from safety. They are without a European win since April 2017, and will have to break that duck on Tuesday against Club Brugge, to have any hope of progressing from Group A.
  • Hoffenheim are also running out of chances, and time, to stake a claim towards progressing to the last 16. Julian Nagelsmann’s debutants sit bottom of Group F after 2-2 and 3-3 draws and a 2-1 defeat. There has been the drama of late goals in each of Die Krachgauer’s games in this group so far; a relatively boring game would suffice if it comes with a win, as they travel to Lyon on Matchday Four.
  • Tottenham’s Champions League campaign may well be done and dusted. One point from three games, the chances of Spurs progressing in Group B are remote, if not impossible. After a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture in Eindhoven, they host PSV, aiming to kick-start the unlikeliest of miracles.

Fixtures

Plzen v Real Madrid

Lyon v Hoffenheim

Red Star Belgrade v Liverpool

Atletico Madrid v Dortmund

Tottenham v PSV

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus v Manchester United

Monaco v Club Brugge

Inter v Barcelona

Bayern Munich v AEK Athens

Napoli v PSG

Valencia v Young Boys

Schalke v Galatasaray

Benfica v Ajax

Porto v Lokomotiv Moscow

CSKA v Roma

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