Karim Benzema Scores as Real Madrid Beat Viktoria Plzen in UEFA Champions League

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23: Karim Benzema, #9 of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Champions League between Club Real Madrid and Viktoria Plzen at Santiago Bernabeu on October 23, 2018 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Sonia Canada/Getty Images)
Sonia Canada/Getty Images

Real Madrid earned their second win in Group G of the 2018 UEFA Champions League after beating Viktoria Plzen 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday night.

Goals from Karim Benzema and Marcelo gave Los Blancos three points, but only after the holders were made to sweat when Plzen got one back with 12 minutes remaining through Patrik Hrosovsky.

Real held on, though, to offer at least a temporary reprieve to under-fire manager Julen Lopetegui before Sunday's Clasico against bitter rivals Barcelona.


Time For Real Madrid to Overhaul Defence

Real won, but the number of chances Plzen created, along with the goal they scored, offered a timely reminder Los Blancos need to overhaul a defence ageing at key positions and lacking collective pace.

Milan Petrzela squandered two excellent chances moments before Benzema's opener, with the second a particularly glaring miss. On both occasions, Plzen had carved a hole in the right side of Real's back four where winger Lucas Vazquez was playing as an auxiliary full-back.

Those weren't the only guilt-edge opportunities the visitors created and wasted. Plzen would have been level a minute before the break had Hrosovsky not inexplicably shot high and wide when faced with an open goal.

Hrosovsky's goal was just reward for the many chances Plzen created.
Hrosovsky's goal was just reward for the many chances Plzen created.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Hrosovsky made amends 12 minutes from time when he slotted beyond Keylor Navas after Marcelo was slow to get across to the attacking midfielder. 

The let-offs and the eventual finish summed up the indecisive and heavy-footed defending blighting Real this season.

Vazquez wasn't helped by centre-back Nacho's lack of pace. The 28-year-old appeared nearly as plodding as the man next to him, 32-year-old skipper Sergio Ramos.

The latter is ageing, as is 30-year-old Marcelo. It's time for Real to invest in some new defenders, preferably modern athletes with the pace and aggression to restore a firm foundation behind the midfield and forward lines.

Ramos struggled on the night.
Ramos struggled on the night.JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

Fixing a defence breached 10 times in all competitions already this season is as important as reinforcing the Ronaldo-less attack.


Benzema's Wild Inconsistencies Killing Post-Cristiano Ronaldo Era

It was typical of Benzema to score a goal that put him among the elite scorers in the competition's history amid another inconsistent performance.

The Frenchman headed in from a Vazquez cross on 11 minutes to join some select company:

B/R Football @brfootball

Karim Benzema moves to outright fourth in Champions League goals! ⭐ https://t.co/i4uohTHBOQ

OptaJose @OptaJose

14 - Karim Benzema has become the third player in Champions League history to score in 14 consecutive seasons, after Lionel Messi and Raul Gonzalez. Delicatessen. https://t.co/Wg3TzwfKQ9

Yet those numbers can't mask how erratic Benzema has been in front of goal at the start of this campaign:

Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan

Benzema got five goals in first four games, none in the next eight, but was pretty good off bench at weekend, and that was excellent header at back post.

Droughts and scoring runs like those sum up a player who gets goals in bunches rather than at a steady, reliable rate. Relentless scoring is what Real enjoyed when Cristiano Ronaldo led the line, but the team is being hampered by Benzema's sporadic output.

Real's No. 9 has always been a mercurial talent. However, the sense he has never quite reached his full potential, despite what he's achieved, remains:

Michael Cox @Zonal_Marking

Nearly a decade playing upfront for maybe the world's biggest club, and I still don't really have an opinion either way on Karim Benzema. Fair play to him.

Relying on Benzema as the focal point of a new-look attack explains why Los Blancos have been in and out of form on Lopetegui's watch.


What's Next?

A trip to the Camp Nou on Sunday provides Real with a chance to slow down leaders Barca in La Liga. Meanwhile, Plzen will be at home to Slovacko in the Czech First league.

The two teams meet again in the Champions League at the Doosan Arena on Wednesday, November 7.