Gareth Bale marked his return to the starting line-up with an impressive assist as Real Madrid survived a red card for Luka Modric to win 3-1 at Celta Vigo in their opening LaLiga fixture of the season.
The Wales star had been left out in the cold for large parts of pre-season following a collapsed move to China, but he was handed a start at Balaidos on Saturday and set up Karim Benzema for a 12th-minute opener.
Looking to capitalise on champions Barcelona’s shock loss to Athletic Bilbao on Friday, Madrid added a stunning second goal through Toni Kroos, but only after Brais Mendez had a strike ruled out and Modric was shown a straight red card.
Zinedine Zidane started without any of his new signings, although the quality of his side’s third goal – rounded off by substitute Lucas Vazquez – will offer hope of a far brighter 2019-20, despite them conceding late on through Iker Losada.
Madrid had lost back-to-back league matches at the end of last season, but they soon found their rhythm here as Bale turned his man inside out down the left and set up Benzema for a simple finish from four yards.
Celta felt there should have been a free-kick in the build-up and were further aggrieved in the final stages of the first half when Alvaro Odriozola was dispossessed by Denis Suarez and the ball fell to the feet of Iago Aspas, who was adjudged to be marginally offside when teeing up Mendez for a close-range finish.
Celta’s hopes of claiming a point were boosted when Modric caught Suarez on the heel and was shown a red card following a VAR review.
Nestor Araujo forced Thibaut Courtois into a point-blank save but Madrid dug deep and scored a second thanks to Kroos’ stunning strike from 35 yards, a minute after Benzema’s header struck the post.
Vazquez rounded off a flowing move 10 minutes from time by drilling a good finish into the bottom-left corner, although Celta at least got a consolation through Losada’s precise strike from a similar spot at the other end.
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Madrid spent big during the close season in an attempt to bridge the gap to Barcelona, who finished 19 points clear of them last season.
Eden Hazard, Rodrygo Goes and Ferland Mendy all missed out through injury, though, while Eder Militao and Luka Jovic were named on the bench, so it was left to the old guard – not least Bale, Benzema, Kroos and Vazquez – to get the job done.
Bale makes his point
Zidane admitted on the eve of the game he was now “relying” on Bale and the forward did not disappoint on his return to the side. As well as setting up Benzema’s goal with an impressive assist, he also helped out in a defensive sense.
Odriozola’s blushes spared
Not helped by Courtois’ pass, Odriozola was put under pressure and lost possession on the right. The offside flag came to the full-back’s rescue that time, but it was generally a nervy display.
Key Opta Facts
- Real Madrid’s victory against Celta Vigo ended their five-game winless streak away from home in LaLiga (D2 L3), their worst such run since April 2006 (also five).
Madrid are unbeaten in their last 11 opening matches to a LaLiga season (W8 D3) – their last defeat on MD1 in the competition came against Deportivo La Coruna in 2008-09 (2-1 at the Riazor).
Luka Modric has been sent off for the first time in LaLiga and for the second time as a Madrid player (August 2014 versus Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana).
Celta de Vigo’s Iago Aspas is winless against Madrid in LaLiga in his 11 league appearances against them (1D 10L).
Gareth Bale has been involved in at least one goal on the opening weekend in the last four seasons, a total of six goals (four scored and two assisted).
Madrid welcome Real Valladolid to the Santiago Bernabeu next Saturday, while Celta host Valencia on the same day.