Real Madrid Go Top After Alaves Win

Real Madrid’s players celebrate after Spanish defender Sergio Ramos (2ndL) scored a goal during the Spanish league football match between Deportivo Alaves and Real Madrid CF at the Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria on November 30, 2019.
ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

Sergio Ramos scored a goal and conceded a penalty as Real Madrid battled past Alaves on Saturday to go top of La Liga before Sunday’s game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. 

Barca and Atletico face off at the Wanda Metropolitano and Madrid did all they could to take advantage, with Dani Carvajal the unlikely matchwinner in a gritty 2-1 victory over Alaves.

“We know at these grounds that teams give everything against Madrid,” said Marcelo. “It’s in these matches that leagues are won.”

“We fought until the end,” added Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

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Ramos had headed them in front shortly after half-time only to concede a needless penalty for throwing his arm across Joselu, which Lucas Perez converted before Carvajal poked in.

Madrid pull three points clear of Barcelona and six ahead of Atletico, who have played a game more than the top two. Sevilla, in third, host Leganes on Sunday. Alaves stay 13th.

A 1-0 defeat at Mendizorrotza 13 months ago came three weeks before Julen Lopetegui was sacked as a coach but this time Madrid showed the kind of steel that was so painfully lacking last season.

On a wet and windy afternoon in the Basque country, Zidane’s side never showed the verve and creativity that was so impressive in the draw against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

But this was a gutsy performance that means they have now won six and drawn two of their last eight matches in all competitions, with the Clasico against Barcelona next month fast approaching.

“A few weeks ago people were saying a lot about this team,” said Zidane. “But we have to stay the same, stay calm and keep working because this is just the start.”

Gareth Bale made his first Madrid start since October 5 after recovering from a calf injury and his first too since his controversial celebration with Wales earlier this month, which sparked anger among his club’s supporters.

Bale hit the post in the first half but faded and was replaced by Rodrygo after Alaves’ equaliser.

With Eden Hazard out injured, Isco also kept his place while Alphonse Areola was given a rare outing in goal ahead of the rested Thibaut Courtois.

Kroos The Provider

Madrid were lucky not to concede another penalty early on as Aleix Vidal slalomed inside Ramos and then Eder Militao, whose dangling leg caught Vidal’s foot. Referee Guillermo Cuadra felt the fall was exaggerated.

At the other end, Bale hit the post with a header and Karim Benzema latched onto a quick throw but instead of shooting, hooked the ball back for Isco whose effort was saved.

Alaves grew in confidence as the rain grew heavier yet Madrid regrouped at half-time and took the lead soon after as Ramos was given a free header to glance in Toni Kroos’ crossed free-kick.

But after scoring his sixth goal of the season, Ramos gifted Alaves an equaliser in the 66th minute by outmuscling Joselu in the penalty area, only to throw an arm across the forward’s chest. Perez made no mistake.

Bale went off for Rodrygo and Alaves might have been able to build on their momentum if they had consolidated.

Instead, parity lasted three minutes as Isco met Luka Modric’s cross at the back post and while Pacheco did brilliantly to save, Carvajal reacted faster than Victor Laguardia to the rebound.

Perez almost drove in a late equaliser but Marcelo made a diving block and Ximo Navarro’s header had to be clawed away by Areola as Madrid held on.

AFP

La Liga Confirm El Clasico Date And Time

 

La Liga Football League have confirmed El Clasico’s date and time.

In a tweet by the league on Wednesday the game will be played on Wednesday, December 18 at 20:00 CET.

Barcelona were due to host Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on October 26, but the match was postponed due to the crisis in Catalonia.

Barcelona Stumble To Home Draw Against Slavia

File Photo: Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde 
Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Ernesto Valverde is under mounting pressure at Barcelona after his team followed up their La Liga defeat by Levante with a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Lionel Messi hit the crossbar in the first half but that was as close as Barca came during a disjointed display that risks dragging Valverde’s team back into the fight for qualification from Group F.

Barcelona sit four points ahead of both Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, whose game in hand comes against each other later on Tuesday. Barca play Dortmund at home next but will hope progress is secured before their final game at the San Siro.

The likelihood is they have already done enough to make the last 16 but Valverde will again face scrutiny, this blunt performance coming only three days after his side were beaten 3-1 by Levante in La Liga on Saturday.

If that loss was defined by three goals conceded in seven mad minutes, this one was far less dramatic, a story of stodgy possession in front of their own fans, whose displeasure made for an increasingly sour atmosphere at Camp Nou.

As a dejected Messi stood with his hands on his hips in the centre circle at the final whistle, not even the blast of the stadium music could drown out the whistles.

Slavia’s players saluted their own supporters like they had pulled off a remarkable upset.

After all, this was only the third time in 29 Champions League matches that Barcelona have failed to win at home, the other two against Juventus and Tottenham last season, when the Catalans had already qualified.

Their night was made worse by Jordi Alba being forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury while Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the game against Dortmund.

Slavia’s pace in attack caused Barcelona problems in the first 45 minutes, which for the home side was illuminated only by the occasional moment from Messi.

Clement Lenglet almost conceded an early penalty when Marc-Andre ter Stegen pushed a pull-back into the defender’s chest while Pique accepted his booking after being robbed of the ball by Peter Olayinka.

Olayinka, Slavia’s gangly forward, was particularly lively as he teed up Lukas Masopust for a shot inside the area before skipping away from Nelson Semedo, who also had to take a yellow card.

Barcelona were sloppy in possession and lacklustre out of it. Ousmane Dembele was erratic and Antoine Griezmann, still playing on the left despite Luis Suarez’s injury, was quiet.

It was up to Messi to lift the mood and he almost scored with a brilliant run from the halfway line that began with a drop of the shoulder and ended with a bending shot against the crossbar.

Both sides had goals ruled out for offside either of half-time, which was greeted by whistles from the home fans, who grew increasingly restless as Barca failed to improve.

They whistled again at Dembele when he was replaced by Ansu Fati and there were groans at mistakes too, like when Semedo headed out for a corner or Lenglet miscontrolled for a throw.

Messi went close but his finish at the near post hit the goalkeeper before Ivan Rakitic, on for Sergio Busquets, curled over late on. When Arturo Vidal stretched but fell short at the far post, the game was up.

Barcelona Slip To Shock Defeat After Levante Goal Flurry

Barcelona’s Argentinian Forward Lionel Messi (R) celebrates scoring the opening goal with Barcelona’s French forward Antoine Griezmann (L), Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (2L) and Barcelona’s Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal during the Spanish League football match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia, on November 2, 2019. JOSE JORDAN / AFP

 

Lionel Messi scored again but was helpless to prevent Barcelona conceding three goals in seven minutes on Saturday as Levante stormed to a surprise 3-1 victory in La Liga. 

Messi converted a first-half penalty at the City of Valencia stadium for his sixth goal in five games only for Levante to stun the defending champions with an incredible treble shortly after the hour.

Jose Campana and Borja Mayoral scored in the 61st and 63rd minutes before Nemanja Radoja added a third in the 68th to finish Barca off and give Real Madrid the chance to move top of the table later on Saturday.

La Liga: Morata Scores As Atletico Hold Alaves To Draw

Atletico Madrid’s Spanish forward Alvaro Morata (3L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Deportivo Alaves and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria on October 29, 2019. ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

Alvaro Morata scored his third goal in as many games but it was not enough for Atletico Madrid as they were hit by a stunning late equaliser on Tuesday in a 1-1 draw against Alaves. 

Morata came off the bench at Mendizorrotza and his smart finish looked like it would prove the winner in a tight contest between two of La Liga’s most stubborn defences.

But Atletico missed chances to add a second and were punished in the 83rd minute as Lucas Perez beat Jan Oblak with a superb long-range strike to earn Alaves a hard-earned point.

Diego Simeone had hailed Oblak as the best goalkeeper in the world after Atleti beat Athletic Bilbao on Saturday but there was little the Slovenian could do about one of the goals of the season so far.

Yet Atletico will still lament two points dropped and a result that leaves them fourth in the table, a point behind surprise leaders Granada.

Diego Costa had been dropped against Bilbao but was restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Morata, despite the Spaniard scoring last weekend and hitting the winner against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League last week.

With a difficult trip to Sevilla to come on Saturday, Simeone rested other key players too, like Thomas Partey and Koke, both of whom came on in the second half, as well as Kieran Trippier.

Alaves had conceded only one goal in their five previous homes games this season and chances were almost non-existent in the first half.

Both teams showed more ambition in the second 45 minutes though as Joselu headed wide for Alaves and Atletico’s Renan Lodi saw a shot whistle past the far post.

Morata came on in the 60th minute and was welcomed with a crunching challenge by Victor Laguardia but the striker was not deterred and struck the opener 10 minutes later.

It was a brilliant passage of forward play as he chested down Oblak’s punt up-field, played a slick one-two with Angel Correa before sliding in a cool finish.

He should have made it two soon after but a poor backpass went unpunished and Correa was then denied by the foot of Fernando Pacheco after some excellent work by Thomas.

The slender advantage left Atletico vulnerable and Lucas delivered the game’s stand-out moment seven minutes from the end. Saul Niguez and Lodi might have made it more difficult for the 31-year-old to cut in from the right but Lucas made the most of the space.

His stinging shot from 25 yards beat the right hand of Oblak and soared into the top corner.

Mallorca Dethrone Real Madrid As La Liga Leaders

Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos gestures during the Spanish league football match RCD Mallorca against Real Madrid CF at the Iberostar estadi stadium in Palma de Mallorca on October 19, 2019. JAIME REINA / AFP

 

Real Mallorca handed Real Madrid their first league defeat of the season on Saturday, to leave Barcelona who beat Eibar 3-0 earlier on top of La Liga.

Junior Lago scored what will be the only goal of the game just seven minutes in with the much-criticised Thibaut Courtois failing to stop the first shot sent his way.

Newly-promoted Real Mallorca held on after that, putting on a disciplined defensive display to the delight of their fans at the Estadi de Son Moix in Palma.

The victory lifted them out of the relegation zone and marks a step back for Zinedine Zidane whose men have failed to convince in the league and face a battle to avert disaster in the Champions League after failing to win their first two group clashes.

Real Madrid had come into the game deprived by injury of several first-team members. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, and Raphael Varane were unavailable and Eden Hazard was left out after his wife gave birth.

In their absence, Zidane fielded an attack-minded team with Isco and James Rodriguez getting the nod in midfield, while Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic joined Karim Benzema upfront.

Eder Militao partnered Captain Sergio Ramos at centre-back, while Alvaro Odriozola replaced Carvajal at right-back.

Fans would have expected Real to easily pick up all three points, Lago Junior’s beautiful early strike put Mallorca on course for victory.

Odriozola, in particular, had a poor game being partly at fault for the first goal and picking up a second yellow card late in the second half to leave a Real Madrid side already short of ideas with a mountain to climb.

Not only did they fail to accomplish the task, but they were also fortunate not to concede a second goal as they left themselves exposed on occasions as they pushed for an equaliser.

Messi, Suarez, Griezmann All On Target As Barca Move Top Of La Liga

Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (L) celebrates after scoring during their match against SD Eibar at the Ipurua stadium in Eibar on October 19, 2019. STRINGER / AFP

 

Barcelona’s ‘MSG’ strike force is finally clicked into gear as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann all scored in a ruthless 3-0 victory over Eibar on Saturday.

Griezmann’s place in the newly-formed attacking trident has not been secure but the Frenchman opened the scoring at Ipurua before teeing up Messi and then playing the crucial pass for Suarez to make it three.

“There will be good and bad days but we are getting to know each other and bit by bit we will do even better,” said Griezmann.

An authoritative Barca display thrust them to the top of La Liga, for a few hours at least before Real Madrid play Real Mallorca. They moved three points clear of Atletico, who drew 1-1 at home to Valencia.

The victory also dismissed suggestions their players might be affected by Friday’s postponement of next Saturday’s Clasico due to protests in Catalonia.

Violence in Barcelona and disruptions at El Prat airport meant Ernesto Valverde’s side altered their pre-match routine and embarked on a 589-kilometre bus trip to the Basque County on Friday.

All the while, discussions continued over the Clasico against Real Madrid, which is now expected to go ahead in December.

“It is fashionable not to agree on political issues but at least let’s agree on the date of the Clasico,” Valverde said afterwards. “It doesn’t seem to me that difficult.”

Perhaps chaos off the pitch inspired Barca to unite on it.

This was their fifth consecutive victory in all competitions, a sequence which is swiftly erasing memories of a stumbling start to the season.

The resurgence has coincided with Messi’s return from injury yet it was the fluidity and cohesion of the front three, rather than the Argentinian’s familiar solo brilliance, that will have been most pleasing for Valverde.

“Great players always understand each other,” Valverde said. “With time and matches they will understand each other even more.”

Four for Griezmann

Griezmann has four goals since joining Barca from Atletico Madrid last summer but a series of underwhelming showings led to Ousmane Dembele starting against Sevilla before the international break.

There was good news too for Barcelona in defence, where Samuel Umtiti came through 90 minutes in what was his first appearance of the season. Umtiti, who has been out with a foot injury, replaced the banned Gerard Pique.

The only blot on the result was an injury to Sergi Roberto, who hurt his left knee and was replaced at half-time. He will be a doubt for the Champions League game away at Slavia Prague on Wednesday.

The visiting fans chanted in support of the nine Catalan leaders imprisoned last week for a failed independence bid in 2017.

Griezmann’s finish clipped the inside of the post and found the net after 13 minutes.

Messi should have made it two before half-time but was denied one-on-one by goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic. Suarez’s effort was ruled out for offside.

Barca made it two just before the hour as Frenkie de Jong’s incisive ball was collected by Suarez. As he lost control, Griezmann took over, flicking left to Messi, who made no mistake.

The third involved all three again. Griezmann’s superb reverse pass set Messi clear and he generously slipped the ball left for Suarez who was left with an open goal.

Atletico lost ground as they were undone by a late Dani Parejo free-kick against Valencia at the Wanda Metropolitano, where both sides finished the game with 10 men.

Diego Costa scored a first-half penalty and in a frantic final 10 minutes, Joao Felix limped off with all three of Diego Simeone’s substitutes already used.

Parejo struck in the 82nd minute and Valencia’s Lee Kang-In was sent off in injury-time.

Atletico confirmed Felix suffered a “bad twist” in his right ankle. His fitness will be a concern for Simeone ahead of Atletico’s Champions League game at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.

“At first it didn’t look like much but the doctors think it could be serious,” said Simeone.

AFP

Hazard Scores First Goal For Real In Granada Win

Real Madrid’s Belgian forward Eden Hazard (L) celebrates with ramos scoring his team’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Granada FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on October 5, 2019. PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

 

Eden Hazard ended the wait for his first Real Madrid goal but his team had to resist a spirited second-half comeback from Granada to seal a thrilling 4-2 victory in La Liga on Saturday. 

Karim Benzema put Real ahead in the second minute at the Santiago Bernabeu before Hazard opened his account with a delightful lifted finish towards the end of the first half.

Luka Modric’s bending long-range effort on the hour looked to have confirmed the win but Granada scored twice in quick succession through Darwin Machis and Domingos Duarte, the first from the penalty spot, to set up a tense last 12 minutes.

James Rodriguez, on as a substitute, ended the rally by scoring his first goal since May 2017 in injury-time to wrap up an unexpectedly dramatic contest between the league’s top two.

Granada stay second, for now, after suffering only their second defeat of the season.

Madrid had been in complete control, their fluency and tempo contributing to arguably the best hour of football they have played this season.

Yet a hectic 20-minute period in the second half took some of the gloss off a performance that at least gets Zinedine Zidane’s side back to winning ways following their 2-2 draw at home to Club Brugge in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Hazard had become a growing concern after five underwhelming matches, the patience granted to him after his injury in pre-season beginning to run out after his 100 million euros ($109 million) move from Chelsea.

The Belgian still looks some way short of his best but his goal here was timely, not just for him but also Real, who will go into international break top of the table, despite their own bumpy start to the season.

Kroos injured, Bale back 

Toni Kroos walked off injured in the first half to be replaced by Modric, which will be a worry for Germany, who play Argentina in a friendly on Wednesday.

Gareth Bale returned after being rested against Brugge while Alphonse Areola came in for the ill Thibaut Courtois in goal. Areola’s mistake gave away the penalty, and perhaps any hopes he had of keeping Courtois out longer-term.

Madrid conceded after 122 seconds on Tuesday but needed only 102 to take the lead here. Playing on the right, Bale often makes use of the outside of his left foot and the bend he created to bypass two Granada defenders and find Benzema at the backpost was superb. Benzema could not miss.

Madrid created several early chances. A slick move down the left between Bale, Benzema and Dani Carvajal saw the latter go clear while Benzema and the impressive Fede Valverde both went close too.

Bale was first to congratulate Hazard when he scored shortly before half-time but Valverde created it, driving past two Granada midfielders before intercepting Duarte’s header and poking the ball through. Hazard finished just in time, lifting it coolly into the net.

The second half grew increasingly bad-tempered, broken up by late tackles and complaints to the referee. Yet when Modric collected Hazard’s pass on the hour, after another Valverde chase, and found the top corner, the game looked finished.

Instead, Granada were given a lifeline. Areola had just failed to claim a cross when moments later he dallied in his box and caught Carlos Fernandez in a rushed attempt to clear.

Darwin Machis scored the penalty and with 12 minutes left, they made it 3-2, Victor Diaz heading to the back post where Duarte prodded in.

Madrid were suddenly alive to the unexpected threat and Benzema should have made it four in the 86th minute but his shot was saved. James did, a quick break ending with Alvaro Odriozola finding him with the pull-back. The relief was palpbale.

AFP

Costa, Felix On Target As Atletico Beat Mallorca

Club Atletico de Madrid players congratulate Atletico Madrid’s Portuguese forward Joao Felix for his goal during the Spanish league football match between RCD Mallorca and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Iberostar estadi stadium in Palma de Mallorca on September 25, 2019.
JAIME REINA / AFP

 

Diego Costa’s partnership with Joao Felix is finally up and running after both scored in Atletico Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca on Wednesday.

Costa headed in on 26 minutes at the Iberostar Stadium and Felix struck again after half-time to set Atletico on their way before Alvaro Morata was sent off just eight minutes after being brought on as a substitute.

Morata’s punishment will be to miss Atletico’s city derby on Saturday against Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano, which could be a contest of first against second in La Liga.

Atletico sit top of the table on 13 points but Real could overtake them by beating Osasuna later on Wednesday.

Athletic Bilbao are one point behind in second place after preserving their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-1 draw at Leganes.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico appear at least to have put behind them a sticky patch that included two draws and a defeat in three games, even if one of those draws was their thrilling comeback against Juventus in the Champions League.

But familiar concerns had returned about Atletico’s threat in attack, with Costa failing to score in any of their opening six matches while offering limited service to the 19-year-old Felix, who has shown glimpses of his undeniable talent but is also still adjusting after his summer move from Benfica.

Goals for both will have been welcome even against a Mallorca side that now sit 17th, having conceded the joint most goals in the division so far.

Given Morata’s red card, Costa and Felix are also almost certain to join forces again for the visit of Madrid this weekend.

Costa’s goal was simple, as Mallorca failed to clear Koke’s cross from the right and the striker nipped in to head past goalkeeper Manolo Reina.

Felix’s was more complex but owed something to fortune too. The Portuguese did brilliantly to bring a looping ball down in the area but his finish on the turn took a cruel deflection before spinning up and into the far corner.

The only blot on Atletico’s night came from Morata, who was booked twice in two minutes of madness after an argument with Mallorca’s Xisco Campos. Morata had come on in the 69th minute and was walking towards the tunnel in the 77th.

AFP

Jordan Fires Sevilla To Top Of La Liga

Sevilla’s Spanish midfielder Joan Jordan (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match Deportivo Alaves against Sevilla FC at the Mendizorrotza stadium in Vitoria on September 15, 2019. ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

Sevilla moved to the top of the early La Liga table on Sunday as Joan Jordan’s brilliant free-kick helped them seal a 1-0 win at Alaves.

Julen Lopetegui’s side continued their excellent start to the campaign, remaining unbeaten and moving a point clear of Atletico Madrid, who lost 2-0 at Real Sociedad on Saturday, at the summit.

It was a first defeat of the season for Alaves, who slipped to 11th in the standings.

Lopetegui, who joined Sevilla for his first job since being sacked in quick succession by both Spain and Real Madrid, saw one of his close-season signings produce the game’s defining moment.

Midfielder Jordan, who arrived at Sevilla from Eibar for a reported 14 million euros ($15.62 million), curled home a wonderful free-kick in the 37th minute which flew into the top corner to give him his second goal of the season.

The visitors comfortably saw out the match to claim their third league win this term, as Alaves failed to muster a shot on target.

Sevilla host Real Madrid next Sunday in a meeting of two sides yet to taste defeat.

Real claimed a 3-2 win over Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, when reigning champions Barcelona eased to a 5-2 victory against Valencia, with 16-year-old Ansu Fati scoring inside two minutes.

Griezmann Nets Brace As Barca Put Five Past Betis

 

Antoine Griezmann proved Barcelona can win without Lionel Messi and do without Neymar too after he scored twice in a 5-2 demolition of Real Betis on Sunday.

Griezmann tossed confetti into the air as he celebrated his second at Camp Nou, where he was the star performer, if only for a night in the absence of Messi, who is still short of fitness.

A brilliant Barcelona performance delivered a resounding response to the doubts from their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend, among them a reliance on Messi, the need for Neymar and the future of Ernesto Valverde as coach.

But as Carles Perez, Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal made it three, four and five, the gloom was forgotten, along with Nabil Fekir’s opener in the 15th minute, that had Betis level at half-time.

Loren Moron slammed a stunning strike into the top corner for Betis late on but by then the game was up as Barca ensured no more ground was lost on Atletico Madrid, who beat Leganes 1-0 earlier on Sunday, or Real Madrid, who were held to a 1-1 draw on Saturday by Real Valladolid.

Barcelona will hope to have Messi back for the trip to Osasuna next weekend but with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele both out for longer, Griezmann’s statement display was timely.

This was his first goal at Camp Nou in 14 appearances, five of them for Real Sociedad and eight for Atletico, and his overall performance was of someone ready to lead, rather than serve merely as a foil for Messi.

Suarez and Messi were in the crowd, who enjoyed a goal from the 21-year-old Perez, making his first start, and a substitute appearance from Anssumane Fati, who at 16 became the second youngest player ever to play for Barcelona in La Liga.

Sergio Busquets was at fault for Betis’ opener as he gave the ball away, allowing Fekir to drive into the corner.

But Barca looked dangerous and were undeterred, even if Gerard Pique, on his 500th appearance for the club, was lucky to escape only with a yellow card when he fouled Loren as the last man.

Rafinha missed an excellent chance to equalise before Griezmann took over, volleying in on the stretch four minutes before half-time, past the weak hand of Dani Martin.

If Griezmann’s first owed something to the goalkeeper, his second was unstoppable. He collected the ball 25 yards out and used Sidnei as a marker to bend his shot around and into the far corner.

Griezmann ran to the corner where confetti was poured into his hands. He tossed it into the air above his head.

Barca were relentless as Perez drove into the bottom corner and Alba made it four, latching onto a superb Busquets pass inside the full-back.

There was still time for two scintillating strikes, the first from Vidal, who was slid in by Griezmann, and the second by Loren, who was given too much space. It was no more than a consolation.

Barcelona stay behind Atletico, who maintained their perfect start with another 1-0 victory, this time over Leganes as Vitolo came off the bench to score a second-half winner at Butarque.

After beating Getafe last weekend by the same scoreline, Atletico have begun the season in familiar fashion, with efficiency trumping invention despite an ambitious set of summer signings.

Joao Felix, Atletico’s 126 million-euro ($140 million) buy from Benfica and much-hailed replacement for Griezmann, was quiet again but again delivered the match’s most memorable moment.

The 19-year-old’s perfectly-timed pass provided the assist for Vitolo while Felix had been picked out by Kieran Trippier, who was faultless on his second Atletico start.

Bale Starts As Madrid Beat Celta 3-1

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema (C) celebrates with teammates including Gareth Bale, Marcelo, and Luka Modric after scoring the opening goal in their clash against Celta Vigo in Vigo on August 17, 2019. MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane promised changes but it was a retro Real Madrid that gave the revolution a winning start on Saturday as Gareth Bale led the way in a 3-1 victory over Celta Vigo.

Bale was back in the team and back in form at Balaidos, with Zidane’s eagerness to move him out this summer still perhaps in his mind as he teed up Karim Benzema’s opening goal.

Celta saw a potential equaliser chalked off before half-time. Then Real’s Luka Modric was sent off 11 minutes inti the second half but a stunning 30-yard shot from Toni Kroos put Madrid firmly back in control.

By the time Lucas Vazquez added a delicious third, at the end of a silky passing move, it was possible to wonder where this Madrid have been for the last 12 months, particularly as this starting line-up included not a single summer signing.

Zidane wanted Paul Pogba but it was Casemiro, Modric and Kroos in midfield, the same trio he picked for the Champions League final in 2018.

The coach also started Marcelo, arguably Madrid’s worst performer last term, and Bale. Only last month Zidane had said it would be “best for everyone” if the Welshman were sold.

Eden Hazard, who injured his thigh in training on Friday, will certainly start when he is fit again and there will be much tougher opponents than Celta, who finished 17th last season and were dead and buried before Iker Losada delivered a late consolation.

But, after a poor pre-season, Zidane needed a positive opening. This one was made all the sweeter by Barcelona’s defeat by Athletic Bilbao on Friday night.

Celta spent much of the match feeling aggrieved, no more so than after Benzema scored after just 12 minutes.

The home team claimed a foul by Casemiro in the build up. After that, Bale still had a lot to do, his dart one way and then the other freeing space for a drive towards the near post, where Benzema reacted fastest.

Early on, Bale was everywhere, blocking a cross in his own penalty area before being unleashed on the break, his rasping shot pushed away by Ruben Blanco.

Celta also had their moments. Gabriel Fernandez’s lunge was just short at the back post. Brais Mendez tapped in after the impressive Denis Suarez robbed Alvaro Odriozola and Iago Aspas made the final pass.

Aspas, however, had strayed offside as VAR spared Odriozola’s blushes. The referee, Javier Estrada, departed to a chorus of whistles at half-time.

Benzema and Aspas both spurned chances soon after the restart before Modric was sent off for an innocuous late challenge on the heel of Suarez. Estrada consulted the review and was left in no doubt.

Nestor Aruajo headed the ball straight at Thibaut Courtois but just as Madrid seemed about to give way, Kroos produced his thunderbolt from 30 yards, the ball cannoning down off the crossbar and in.

That knocked the stuffing out of Celta. They went three down when a brilliant team move, involving Isco, Benzema and Marcelo, found Vazquez free at the back post.

Bale had been replaced by Isco, exchanging a hand slap with Zidane as he went, before Losada prodded home in injury-time.

AFP