Real Madrid will hope to inch closer to sealing place in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 when they take on Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday
Matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League will conclude on Wednesday, with the final eight matches being played out. Group G is one of the most open ones in the premier European competition, but that could change when Viktoria Plzen play hosts to Real Madrid at the Doosan Arena.
Viktoria Plzen are currently rock bottom in Group G, having managed to take just one points from their opening three games. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are on the summit of the group. But, the European champions cannot breathe easy just yet, as third-placed CSKA Moscow are just two behind.
It hasn’t been all that bad for the hosts in domestic football, however, as they are second in the Czech First League, level on points with leaders Slavia Praha. But, Viktoria Plzen have lost one of the three games they have played since being beaten by Real Madrid in the reverse fixture and have not been all that convincing in the other two either.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, followed the win in their last UEFA Champions League game with the disastrous El Clasico defeat that cost Julen Lopetegui his job. But, Santiago Solari has overseen two wins in a row since being appointed as the interim boss, and will not take charge of his first game in Europe.
As iterated earlier, the reverse fixture at the Bernabeu two weeks ago ended in Real Madrid’s favour, as they recorded a narrow 2-1 win. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Pavel Vrba has one major injury concern to deal with ahead of the visit of Real Madrid, with star striker Michael Krmencik sidelined for the rest of the season due to a long-term knee injury. Apart from the 25-year-old, Daniel Kolar is also unavailable, while Jan Kovarik is doubtful.
However, it is Krmencik, whose void will be hard to fill for Viktoria Plzen. Tomas Chory is likely to be the one to replace the Czech Republic international, with Jakub Reznicek being his backup, and the two will hope to be on target and get the better of a suspect Real Madrid defence.
Sharing the goalscoring burden for the front-man will be Patrik Hrosovsky and Roman Prochazka. While the duo will be deployed in the midfield pivot, they are not shy in taking on the goalkeeper with long-range efforts, which is one of the avenues that Viktoria Plzen bank on, at times.
At the back, Vrba is known to prefer experience Lukas Hejda and Roman Hubnik lining up at the heart of the Viktoria Plzen defence, while Radim Reznik and David Limbersky should be the full-backs. The Plzen goal will likely be manned by veteran custodian Matus Kozacik.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Kozacik; Reznik, Hejda, Hubnik, Limbersky; Hrosovsky, Prochazka; Petrzela, Cermak, Kopic; Chory
Santiago Solari continues to grapple with a full blown injury crisis on the defensive front, with as many as four first-team defenders still unavailable. Additionally, Mariano Diaz is also on the treatment table due to a hamstring injury.
The defenders who are on the sidelines are Dani Carvajal (calf), Marcelo (hamstring), Jesus Vallejo (thigh) and Raphael Varane (leg). The back four thus, pretty much picks itself, with Alvaro Odriozola and Sergio Reguilon replacing Carvajal and Marcelo in the full-back slots.
Nacho will continue filling in for Varane, with Sergio Ramos as his partner at the heart of the Real Madrid defence. The goalkeeping slot is the one that is providing Solari with a pleasing problem, just like his predecessor. But, Keylor Navas should continue being the preferred choice in the UEFA Champions League ahead of Thibaut Courtois.
In midfield, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos are likely to start once again, despite Modric not looking like he’s in any sort of form. But, Solari could take a big call to start Vinicius Jr. for the first time in a Champions League game following his sprightly cameo against Real Valladolid. The other two spots should be taken up by Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Navas; Odriozola, Nacho, Ramos, Reguilon; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
- Last month’s meeting at the Bernabeu marked the first time that Viktoria Plzen and Real Madrid faced off in a competitive fixture.
- Viktoria Plzen are winless in 10 Champions League matches stretching back to a 2-1 qualifying win at Maccabi Tel Aviv in July 2015.
- This is Real Madrid’s first trip to the Czech Republic since a 3-2 win at Sparta Praha in November 2001 – their first away win in the country (D2 L2).
- But, Los Blancos have won their last four matches against Czech clubs, home and away, and are unbeaten in the last six (D2).
- Meanwhile, Viktoria Plzen have only one victory in seven attempts against Spanish opposition – a 1-0 home triumph over Atletico Madrid in the 2012-13 Europa League group stage.
Player to Watch
In the short duration that he has worked under Santiago Solari, both in the Castilla side as well as the Real Madrid first-team, Vinicius Jr. seems to have become a go-to man for his boss, almost always making a telling impact during his time on the pitch under his reign.
Having helped turn the game around against Real Valladolid this past weekend, the Brazilian prodigy now has the chance to start for the first time in a Champions League game. Another stunning outing will be required as Real Madrid look to take a step closer to a place in the knockout stages, and a fully charged Vinicius may just do that.
Viktoria Plzen 1-3 Real Madrid
Real Madrid may still be far from their best. But, they are slowly but surely taking the baby steps to get the winning momentum back after a horrible run to end Julen Lopetegui’s ill-fated tenure. Viktoria Plzen aren’t in the best of form either, having won just two of their last five games in all competitions.
Their poor away form may take a back seat in this game as well, especially with the impressive Vinicius Jr. set to make his first start in Europe for Los Blancos. Expect a comfortable evening for Santiago Solari’s charges, although the hosts should find their way to break Keylor Navas’s defence. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Real Madrid.