The last time a former Real Madrid great took over as coach, he led the club to three straight Champions League titles. Santiago Solari still has a long way to go to emulate former teammate Zinedine Zidane, but he can help his case for more time in charge when he makes his coaching debut in the competition at Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday.
Solari is already following in Zidane’s footsteps. The 42-year-old Argentine had been coaching Real Madrid’s reserve team since 2016, taking over not long after Zidane left for the job with the main squad.
Solari, who took over as interim coach following Julen Lopetegui’s dismissal last month, has stabilized the team and won both games since taking charge. Two more victories in games against Viktoria Plzen and then Celta Vigo in the Spanish League could end talk of Antonio Conte or Roberto Martinez being brought in.
Madrid was in crisis when Solari arrived, enduring a run that included five losses in seven matches in all competitions, culminating in the 5-1 humbling by Barcelona.
Solari’s first job was to get the side winning again – so far, so good – and to put the team within sight of the Champions League knockout stages, which it can reach for the 22nd year in a row.
Solari has turned to youth to invigorate his demoralized side, and has pleased fans by bringing in Brazilian teenager Vinicius Junior, who had been relegated to the “B” team under Lopetegui.
Solari also didn’t hesitate to use young fullbacks Alvaro Odriozola and Sergio Reguilon in defense while the regular starters were injured. Both are expected to start in Plzen.
Madrid’s defense has already improved, with two consecutive clean sheets. The team had conceded 10 goals in its last seven matches under Lopetegui. Group leader Roma visits CSKA Roma earlier.
A look at the four Champions League groups on Wednesday:
Bayern Munich is hoping it fares better in November than October, when it failed to impress despite bouncing back from a four-game winless run with four wins in a row. That was ended by modest Freiburg in a 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga on Saturday, again shining a light on what has been a long series of poor performances.
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is also under scrutiny after conceding in each of his last four games in the Bundesliga. The Germany goalkeeper has only saved half the shots on goal he has faced so far in the league.
Bayern can quell talk of a crisis with a commanding performance against AEK Athens and can even reach the knockout stages with a win if Benfica loses to visiting Ajax in the other group game.
Ajax, which leads Group E with seven points from three games, needs to win to ensure progress, while Bayern, which is level on points, is looking for more than just a result against the group’s last-place team.
Lyon striker Memphis Depay has been making headlines ahead of a rematch with Hoffenheim. Depay, who joined from Manchester United last year, said last week he did not feel like a respected player after being left out of the starting lineup for the league game against Angers.
Depay sulked on the sidelines during warmups and was used as a second-half substitute, setting up Lyon’s opening goal before scoring three minutes from time for a 2-1 win. “I think I deserve more respect. I deserve better than that and I should play every game,” Depay said.
Lyon coach Bruno Genesio had left Depay out after he criticized teammates following the 3-3 draw at Hoffenheim. Genesio has yet to decide whether to field Depay or Moussa Dembele up front on Wednesday.
Group leader Manchester City will advance with a win at Shakhtar Donetsk if Hoffenheim loses.
Roma, like Real Madrid, aims to make its progress all but clear with a win at CSKA Moscow, which it defeated 3-0 in Rome. Both Roma and Madrid have six points from three games. But CSKA is only two points behind and will be hoping to replicate the home form that took it to a 1-0 win over Madrid last month. Uruguay striker Abel Hernandez returned from injury last week but promptly hurt his thigh in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Dynamo Moscow.
CSKA fans are expected to honor their fellow supporters who were injured when an escalator in Rome malfunctioned as they traveled to the first Roma game.
Viktoria Plzen, with one point, will be knocked out if it loses and Roma wins its game.
Juventus can progress with another win over Manchester United after its 1-0 win in England. The Italian champions have three wins from three games and are enjoying their best ever start to a Serie A season. Manchester midfielder Paul Pogba will be facing his former team. “It’s where I developed as a player so I’ve huge respect for this team and this club,” Pogba said. “I’m delighted to be going back and playing there.”
Valencia hosts Young Boys in the other group game and will be hoping for a favor from Juventus. The Spanish side has two points, two behind United.