Karim Benzema and Marcelo scored as under-pressure Real Madrid head coach Julen Lopetegui saw his team beat Viktoria Plzen 2-1 for their first win in six.
Lopetegui is rumoured to be on the brink of the sack at the Santiago Bernabeu after a dismal run in all competitions, but there was a timely victory for the reigning Champions League holders on Tuesday, albeit in unconvincing fashion.
While Plzen largely gave as good as they got, the recalled Benzema crucially broke the deadlock, scoring in a 14th consecutive Champions League season with a powerful early header.
A second from Marcelo followed, yet Patrik Hrosovsky pulled a goal back and Barcelona, Madrid's next opponents, would certainly have identified weaknesses ahead of El Clasico, which could have a huge bearing on Lopetegui's future.
Benzema provided a rare clinical moment in a first half packed with wasted chances, storming onto Lucas Vazquez's cross to open the scoring after 11 minutes.
Sergio Ramos had already nodded against the post and both Benzema and Isco failed to add to Madrid's advantage, the latter twice passing up opportunities inside the area.
There were clear openings at the other end too, though, with Plzen preying on Vazquez's poor positioning at right-back and going close on three occasions through Milan Petrzela, David Limbersky and Hrosovsky, who failed to hit the target with the goal gaping.
Jeers from the home crowd greeted missed chances at either end, the Madrid fans frustrated by their own side's profligacy and the ease with which their opponents marched forwards, while the early substitution of Isco was unpopular too.
Gareth Bale's flick teed up Marcelo for a dinked second goal to prompt some belated cheer in the stands, but Hrosovsky's long run and finish ensured a tense conclusion for both the supporters and Lopetegui, who would have been relieved to see his men claim three points.
What it means: A nervy few days for Lopetegui
Despite his pre-match protestations, Lopetegui must know he is in trouble. Some reports suggested the coach would be sacked regardless of the result against Plzen and, although his side won, this was not a performance that is likely to change many minds in Madrid. It is still not a given that Lopetegui will make it to Sunday's Clasico.
Benzema joins elite group with crucial goal
French forward Benzema netted in a 14th consecutive Champions League campaign on Tuesday. The only other two to achieve that feat? Lionel Messi and Raul. Dropped to the bench at the weekend, Benzema was wasteful at times against Plzen but his header at least eased the early tension.
Vazquez out of position and out of his depth
Lopetegui knew this was a game he and Madrid needed to win, but that did not necessarily mean the holders needed to go for broke. Selecting Vazquez at right-back was a strange choice and it very nearly cost the coach, his nominal winger exposed time and time again, rescued only by poor Plzen finishing.
Key Opta Facts
- Real Madrid have scored in each of their last 44 Champions League home matches, since a 2-0 loss to Barcelona in April 2011. Since then they have scored 127 goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.
- Vazquez has made more assists than any other Real Madrid player since the start of last season in all competitions (13).
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 27 home Champions League group stage games (W24 D3), since a 3-2 loss to AC Milan in October 2009.
- Benzema is the fourth all-time top-scorer in the Champions League with 57 goals, surpassing Ruud van Nistelrooy (56).
- Madrid are the team with the highest possession figure (67% - level with Barcelona) and the most shots (77) in the Champions League this season so far.
- Federico Valverde has become the third Uruguayan player to feature for Real Madrid in the Champions League, after Carlos Diogo and Pablo Garcia.
For Madrid, it is the big one. With or without Lopetegui, they face Barcelona in El Clasico on Sunday. Plzen have slightly more modest opponents in the form of Slovacko this weekend.
|Reported Liverpool target Dabbur to undergo Sevilla medical|
|Lebanon v North Korea: Radulovic calls on players to make history|
|MLS MVP Martinez signs five-year contract with Atlanta|
|WBC set deadline for Wilder-Fury rematch|
|Iran 0 Iraq 0: Team Melli top Group D after dull draw|
|Vietnam 2 Yemen 0: Quang Hai shines to give Golden Dragons hope|
|Bielsa admits to spying on all Leeds´ opponents|
|Valverde open to arrivals amid De Jong tug-of-war|
|Sexton named in Ireland squad for Six Nations openers|
|Higuain benched for Supercoppa Italiana amid Chelsea links|
|De Grandhomme, Latham and Santner back in Black Caps squad|
|Oman v Turkmenistan: Verbeek tells players to ´score as many as possible´|
|Japan v Uzbekistan: Cuper not distracted by potential last-16 opponents|
|Brown desperate for England recall|
|Lowry ties course record in Abu Dhabi|
|James is playing for Bayern future – Kovac|
|Wizards can compete for playoffs in LeBron-less East despite injuries - Brooks|
|Kyrgyzstan 3 Philippines 1: Lux hat-trick gives White Falcons third-place hope|
|South Korea 2 China 0: Son sets the standard as Bento´s men take top spot|
|Saudi Arabia v Qatar: Top spot on the line in Group E|
|Wasps pull off Fekitoa coup|
|Fresh injury woe for Real Madrid defender Vallejo|
|Home sweet home for Wozniacki as Stephens conquers Melbourne demons|
|Nadal: Victory over Ebden a step forward|
|Proteas rest Steyn and De Kock for opening ODIs|
|Nadal and Federer march on as rising stars prosper|
|Barcelona president Bartomeu convinced Valverde will stay|
|Inter forward Keita suffers thigh injury|
|Nadal races into third round with easy Ebden win|
|Kimmich ´perfect´ for Barcelona, says Xavi|
|Richardson and Nabi inspire Renegades´ rout of Sixers|
|This Liverpool isn´t a team of chokers – Mane|
|Central Coast Mariners 2 Melbourne City 1: Late Simon winner ends 10-match losing streak|
|Bryan backs Murray to return after hip resurfacing surgery|
|Scotland coach Townsend turns to trio of uncapped hookers|
|Spurs´ Aurier arrested on suspicion of assault, released without charge|
|That was a fireworks show - Warriors revel in record-breaking first quarter|
|We are in talks with Chelsea – Salihamidzic reiterates interest in Hudson-Odoi|
|´Proud´ Messi recognises impact of team-mates after reaching 400 LaLiga goals|
|Henry v Vieira: The Arsene Wenger proteges to move into coaching|
|Federer enjoys ´cat and mouse´ win over Evans|
|Wozniacki cruises through in Melbourne|
|Federer maintains perfect Australian Open second-round record|
|Warriors set NBA record, Butler´s 76ers rout Timberwolves|
|´I like the fact we beat them´ - 76ers´ Butler revels in win over Timberwolves|
|Murray says he´ll ´probably´ have operation|
|Australian Open tribute for Andy Murray surprises brother Jamie|
|Warriors score NBA record 51 points in first quarter against Nuggets|
|Panthers owner Tepper doesn´t rule out Newton missing 2019 because of shoulder injury|
|De Ligt will be world´s best centre-back – Koeman|
|Ronaldo a ´perfect machine´, says Gattuso|
|Barcelona? I can´t say anything - Stuani|
|Silva upbeat about Man City title chances|
|Celtics youngsters say Irving´s callout ´came from a good place´|
|NFL playoffs: Patrick Mahomes v Tom Brady|
|NFL playoffs: Jared Goff v Drew Brees|
|Sixers sign Brewer to 10-day contract|
|Lozano and Morgan scoop CONCACAF awards|
|Lakers ´optimistic´ about LeBron injury|
|Giants produce mammoth fourth quarter against Nymburk|
|Austin FC to join MLS in 2021|
|Henry, Vieira look forward to reunion when Monaco host Nice|
|Barcelona reject Neymar phone call reports|
|Wentz is the quarterback ´going forward´, says Eagles coach Pederson|
|Gattuso: Higuain has not asked to leave|
|Drew Brees by the Opta numbers: 10 facts for QB´s milestone birthday|
|Harry Kane injury: England captain´s history of ankle woe|
|Harry Kane injury: Opta numbers suggest Spurs struggles|
|Harry Kane injury: Tottenham´s options in striker´s absence|
|Allegri: Supercoppa clash practice for Champions League knockouts|