Real Madrid's Argentinian interim coach Santiago Solari wants the job on a permanent basis.
Madrid (AFP) - Santiago Solari pressed his case for becoming Real Madrid’s permanent coach on Wednesday after a 5-0 demolition of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.
Since being installed on a temporary basis following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui last week, Solari has overseen three victories, over Plzen, Real Valladolid in La Liga and Melilla in the Copa del Rey.
Madrid’s latest success puts them on the cusp of qualification for the Champions League’s knock-out stage, even if there is still a scrap to be had with Roma for top spot in Group G.
The quality of Solari’s opponents may have been mixed but it is hard to argue with the numbers. Madrid have won three games on the bounce, scoring 11 goals and conceding none.
This after Lopetegui was dismissed following a run of just one victory in seven, with the team enduring a goal drought that lasted more than eight hours.
Solari can only remain as an interim coach for 15 days according to Spanish regulations, meaning the club will have to make a decision on his future after Sunday’s La Liga game away to Celta Vigo.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five changes Solari has made to help instigate Madrid’s revival.
Karim Benzema scored twice against Plzen to take his tally to three goals in as many games under Solari and his return to form could not have come at a better time. Benzema started the season well but faded and one goal in 10 games was symptomatic of Madrid’s offensive malaise under Lopetegui.
Solari has reinvigorated the Frenchman, as well as his partnership with Gareth Bale. Each laid on one assist for the other in the Czech Republic as Bale found the net for the first time in eight matches.
Goals were the fundamental failing under Lopetegui. Solari has his two best strikers firing again.
Through no fault of his own, Vinicius Junior, the 18-year-old striker signed from Flamengo, became a microcosm of Madrid’s problems under Lopetegui.
Those critical of the coach believed his reluctance to play the teenager showed a lack of imagination while others saw in Vinicius the wider failure to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with a more established forward last summer.
Solari, however, has cleared the mist by backing Vinicius from the start, handing him 90 minutes against Melilla and then bringing him off the bench against both Valladolid and Plzen. In each game, the youngster has delivered. Solari has harnessed the hype for the good of the team.
Scoring goals may have been the root of Madrid’s slump under Lopetegui but anxiety spread to the defence too, where Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were both guilty of mistakes.
Varane has been injured but Ramos, alongside Nacho in central defence, has improved. The captain played in the win over Melilla, a match where he might usually have been rested, which sent a strong message about the need for togetherness in adversity.
At left-back too, Solari has shown faith in 21-year-old Spaniard Sergio Reguilon to replace the injured Marcelo. Reguilon has been excellent so far, with his cross leading to Bale’s goal against Plzen. The back four is working again.
Decided on Courtois
The arrival of Thibaut Courtois raised eyebrows given Madrid already boasted UEFA’s goalkeeper of last season in Keylor Navas. Lopetegui played Navas in the Champions League and Courtois in La Liga but that diplomatic approach is unlikely to have benefited his defence.
Solari appears to have made the decision to back Courtois as his first choice, after the Belgian started both games against Valladolid and Plzen.
It is tough on Navas but at a club like Real Madrid, there can be little room for sentimentality. Solari has made the difficult call for the good for the team.
Earned good luck
Lopetegui made an ugly habit of blaming misfortune for his team’s troubles but it was true that Madrid regularly fell on the wrong side of shots hitting the post, interventions by the video assistant referee and injuries to key players.
Solari’s first proper victory against Valladolid, meanwhile, came after Vinicius’ shot took a sharp deflection and Ramos converted a dubious penalty. The fixtures have also fallen kindly. If hired full-time, he will encounter tougher opponents than Melilla, from Spain’s third tier, Valladolid and Plzen.
But Solari has earned some good fortune through his bravery. He now has momentum. Whether he is allowed to sustain it will be up to club president Florentino Perez.