MADRID: Zinedine Zidane’s new-look Real Madrid began the new Spanish league season with a 3-1 win away to Celta Vigo notable for a superb goal from German playmaker Toni Kroos.
Gareth Bale returned to the Madrid starting line-up in the absence of injured new signing Eden Hazard after having been on the brink of leaving during the summer and coming close to landing a lucrative move to China.
Bale was preferred to Lucas Vazquez and responded by setting up the opening goal for Karim Benzema.
Real rode their luck in the early stages and had Luca Modric sent off in the 54th minut, but a wonder goal from Toni Kroos and a further strike from substitute Vazquez wrapped up victory before Sebastian Losada’s late consolation.
Victory was made all the more sweeter coming just a day after Barcelona opened the new La Liga season with a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao following an overhead kick from 38-year-old Artiz Aduriz.
Bale needed just 11 minutes to make his point to Zidane as he squared for Benzema who tapped in despite Celta protests over an alleged foul by Casemiro in the build-up.
Casemiro then made a crucial interception to maintain Real’s lead on the half-hour, diverting the ball away from Borja Fernandez who looked almost certain to grab the equaliser.
Modric saw a fine effort well saved by Ruben Blanco, and the Celta keeper also reacted well to keep out a fierce drive from Bale before controversy erupted on the stroke of half-time.
Celta appeared to have equalised through Brais Mendez after a goalmouth scramble in which Iago Aspas looked to have been fouled, but a subsequent VAR review saw the effort narrowly ruled out for offside.
Aspas continued to threaten early in the second half and Real’s lead looked distinctly fragile when Modric was issued a straight red card after 54 minutes for tripping Denis Suarez.
Instead Zidane’s side responded superbly with Benzema bringing another good save out of Blanco before Kroos extended Real’s lead with a crashing effort off the underside of the bar on the hour mark.
Bale’s effective contribution came to an end when he was replaced by Isco in the 75th minute, and it remains to be seen whether he has done enough to maintain Zidane’s favour.
Vazquez made it 3-0 just six minutes after replacing Vinicius Junior by drifting in past two defenders and firing an unstoppable shot past Blanco.
Real continued to cruise towards victory but the home side got the goal their performance deserved in the dying seconds when Losada swept a shot across Thibaut Courtois from a tight angle.