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. (Football News)
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.
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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.
8 - Real Madrid's Gareth Bale has been involved in eight goals (six scored, two assisted) in his nine LaLiga appearances versus Celta. Assist. pic.twitter.com/gwNKzaNQob— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 17, 2019
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.
Madrid welcome Real Valladolid to the Santiago Bernabeu next Saturday, while Celta host Valencia on the same day.
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