Lopetegui remains under pressure as Madrid edges Plzen 2-1

(AP Photo/Paul White)

By TALES AZZONI

AP Sports Writer

MADRID (AP) Real Madrid ended its winless streak but didn't do enough to ease the pressure on coach Julen Lopetegui.

Madrid's narrow 2-1 victory over Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday halted the team's five-match run without a win but kept the embattled coach feeling the heat.

For the second straight match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, fans jeered the team after the final whistle.

Karim Benzema and Marcelo scored a goal in each half for Madrid on a night in which the three-time defending European champions squandered plenty of chances but also conceded several.

"The fans maybe wanted an easier victory, and the team deserved it as it created numerous chances," Lopetegui said. "I look at the positives, which was to get the three points and to change the dynamic from the last matches. The win was very important considering the situation we were in."

Madrid has six points in Group G after three matches. Roma, which defeated CSKA Moscow 3-0 at home in the other group match, also has six points but a better goal difference.

Lopetegui will have another chance to quieten his critics - maybe his last - in the "clasico" against Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Madrid had lost four of its last five matches in all competitions, including a 1-0 defeat at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. It lost 2-1 to Levante on Saturday in the Spanish league.

Benzema opened the scoring with an 11th-minute header and Marcelo added to the lead from inside the area in the 55th after a neat back-heel pass by Gareth Bale.

The visitors, who had some good scoring chances in the first half, pulled one back with a 79th-minute goal by Patrik Hrosovsky, making it a tense final minutes at the Bernabeu.

Lopetegui has only been in the job for a few months after his sudden dismissal from Spain's national team days before the World Cup for not telling federation officials about his deal to coach Madrid. The team started well but was coming off one of its worst slumps, which included the longest scoreless streak in Madrid's history.

Desperately needing the win, Madrid pressed from the start and had numerous scoring opportunities, with Viktoria Plzen relying on counterattacks.

Sergio Ramos had Madrid's first significant chance with a header that hit the post less than five minutes into the match, and Benzema didn't miss with his own header a few minutes later after a nice cross by Lucas Vazquez. It was the Frenchman's first goal in nine matches in all competitions.

Vazquez, a forward, played as a right back in one of the changes made by Lopetegui to the starting lineup. The coach also replaced Raphael Varane with Nacho Fernandez in the center of defense, and added Francisco "Isco" Alarcon as an attacking midfielder after he had missed several games following appendicitis surgery.

Madrid's second goal came early in the second half after Bale's back-heel pass to Marcelo, who entered the area and chipped the ball into the far corner as goalkeeper Ales Hruska charged from the net.

There were some scares for Madrid in the first half. One of Plzen's few good chances was a close-range shot by Milan Petrzela that forced a difficult save by Keylor Navas just moments before Benzema opened the scoring. Hrosovsky had an even better opportunity on a breakaway in the final minutes of the half, but his shot sailed high with only Navas to beat. Hrosovsky found the net with a shot from just outside the area near the end of the match.

"We had quite a few opportunities, it's quite a pity we didn't win any points," Viktoria Plzen coach Pavel Vrba said. "Football is not just about opportunities, you actually have to score, but I'm happy that we showed we can compete."

Madrid had two goals disallowed for offside, one by Bale in the 33rd and another by Benzema in the 71st.

Madrid has not failed to score in 44 straight home games in the Champion League.

The team finished with 10 men as Marcelo had to leave with an injury and all three substitutions had already been made.

Madrid's director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno, guaranteed that Lopetegui would stay in charge for the match against Barcelona.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Updated October 23, 2018

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