Real Madrid could easily have been a goal and a man down in Wednesday's Champions League Group A game at Viktoria Plzen, before two goals in 143 seconds from Karim Benzema and Casemiro put them on the way to a comfortable victory. Benzema and Gareth Bale made it 0-4 by half-time, and Toni Kroos' neat chip was the cherry on top in the second half.
Benzema's first goal and Kroos' strike were both pieces of solo magic which Madrid's big players have not been providing enough of lately. Bale getting a first goal in eight games added to a sense that things are now clicking under still interim coach Santi Solari. Another clean sheet should also be a badly needed boost of confidence for the injury-hit defence.
Madrid again started the game less than fully focused, which was a feature of the ill-fated start to the season under previous coach Julen Lopetegui. Club captain Sergio Ramos was once more the most guilty party, and better teams than Plzen would have punished early uncertainty at the back.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Solari's XI was again quite brave and he was again rewarded with things falling his way. The Argentine is now the first Madrid coach since the 1950s to win his first three games without conceding even once. The fixture list has been kind, but he now looks well placed to get the job until the end of the season at least.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Now firm first choice as Lopetegui's La Liga/ UCL rotation with Keylor Navas has been ended by Solari. Made two routine saves from Jan Kopik when Plzen went looking for a consolation in the second half.
DF Alvaro Odriozola, 7 -- A deliberate handball following a mis-control was symptomatic of Madrid's early nerves, but his pace on the cover was very useful on three separate occasions to thwart Plzen breaks.
DF Nacho Fernandez, 6 -- Lucky not to concede an own-goal when diverting a cross against his own crossbar during the rocky opening stages, ended the game as captain and by far the most experienced member of the back four.
DF Sergio Ramos, 5 -- Very fortunate not to be sent off at 0-0 after he drew blood from the nose of Plzen's Milan Havel with his elbow, which is not the type of leadership Madrid need at the moment. Or ever.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 6 -- Another competent showing from the 21 year old who was again prominent in attack but not really challenged in defence.
MF Dani Ceballos , 6 -- Given a chance in an advanced midfield role with Luka Modric rested, Ceballos did not have as big an influence on proceedings as he would have liked, although he did hit the cross leading to Benzema's second goal.
MF Casemiro, 6 -- Another game in which the holding midfielder's aerial threat at set-pieces was more useful to his team than his covering of opposition counter-attacks. Took his goal well but still below top form.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Probably Kroos' best showing of the season so far, a pin-point corner brought an assist for Casemiro's header, and his extra cheeky chip over Plzen keeper Ales Hruska to make it 5-0 was perfectly executed.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 5 -- A surprise pick on the right wing ahead of Marco Asensio or Isco, the Galician blew three chances to get on the scoresheet in a generally below-par showing.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- The often maligned Frenchman's opener tonight was highest quality, driving into the box and then dummying three Plzen players before expertly finishing for his 200th goal for Madrid. Number 201 came from closer range, while the back-headed assist for Bale was not bad either.
FW Gareth Bale, 7 -- Another to happily take advantage of the generosity in the home defence - had already gone close twice before his neatly taken back post finish for 4-0. A sharper Bale would probably have wreaked more havok though.
DF Javi Sanchez, 6 -- The Castilla centre-back, 21, got his first taste of Champions League action when Ramos was removed on the hour mark, presumably to avoid risk of injury or suspension.
FW Vinicius Junior, 7 -- Solari again trusted the youngster ahead of more experienced options, and the 18 year old's mature run and pass gave Kroos the space to score his chip.
MF Isco, N/R -- Not yet been picked by Solari in an XI, and unhappy to have been third in off the bench either.