Isco and Gareth Bale celebrated their Real Madrid returns under Zinedine Zidane by sealing a 2-0 LaLiga win over Celta Vigo.
Santiago Solari gave Isco a minimal role in his plans but, after Zidane was reappointed to end the Argentinian’s ill-fated tenure, the Spain international returned to the starting XI alongside the similarly ostracised Bale, Marcelo and Keylor Navas.
Bale hit the crossbar and was fortunate not to be sent off, while Navas brilliantly prevented Maxi Gomez from putting relegation-threatened Celta ahead amid an all-action showing from Marcelo.
But it fell to Isco to break the deadlock after the hour and Bale made sure 13 minutes from time, moving Madrid two points behind city rivals Atletico in second ahead of their trip to Athletic Bilbao later on Saturday.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) March 16, 2019
Navas, preferred to Thibaut Courtois in goal, made a stunning reaction save from Gomez’s 16th-minute header and Celta retained a threat on the counter-attack throughout.
Bale struck a 30th-minute scissors kick against the bar and Sergio Ramos headed wide after Ruben Blanco diverted a rasping Marcelo strike behind.
The Wales forward crossed for Karim Benzema to roll into the net during first-half stoppage time but was correctly penalised for crashing an elbow into Kevin Vazquez’s face and fortunate to only see a yellow card.
Unperturbed, Bale went sliding into Sofiane Boufal in the 53rd minute, the act of turning his studs to the turf before contact enough to spare him.
Modric thought he had given Madrid the lead when he drove home from Toni Kroos’ partially cleared corner, only for a Raphael Varane to be ruled offside and interfering by a VAR review.
The breakthrough came after 61 minutes as Madrid constructed the type of sharp break that became a hallmark of Zidane’s initial reign and Isco slid home Benzema’s low cross before departing to a standing ovation.
Blanco excelled to thwart Bale and Benzema, but the former skipped through a flagging backline to clip in a right-footed shot off the post.
What does it mean? Madrid hit the right notes after Zidane gets the band back together
Julen Lopetegui and Solari might not have recognised the players who failed them but got back in the groove here. An extensive renovation job is expected at Madrid during the close-season, but Zidane has not lost the Midas touch when it comes to coaxing the best from those already in the building on this evidence.
Masterful Modric has no need for grand statement
A lively attacking showing from Marcelo caught the eye, somewhat at odds with the sullen figure who spent the final weeks of Solari’s reign on the bench amid questions over his fitness and application in training. It is impossible to imagine Ballon d’Or winner Modric being similarly sullied or needing the type of ego massage a handful of his team-mates appear to have welcomed from Zidane. The mercurial Croatia international ticked away beautifully in midfield throughout this encounter, as he has during the darkest moment of Madrid’s soap-opera season.
Calm down, Gareth
Bale did not sulk under Solari, he got angry. The reappointment of a coach with whom he fell out of favour towards the end of last season meant his inclusion was a surprise. No Madrid player went closer to scoring before half-time and he wrapped up the points, but Bale could have been sent off twice. There are more level-headed ways – his friend Modric stands as an example – to show your commitment to the cause.
Key Opta Facts
– Ramos has made his 600th start for Real Madrid after 604 played in all competitions. He played his first game as a substitute versus Celta Vigo in 2005.
– Zidane took charge of his 150th game for Real Madrid in all competitions (W105 D29 L16).
– Only Barcelona (16) have hit the woodwork more times in LaLiga this season than Real Madrid (15, alongside Sevilla).
– The last two Isco LaLiga home goals for Real Madrid have been scored against Celta Vigo.
– Benzema has been involved in 17 goals in LaLiga this season (13 goals and four assists), better than each of the two previous league seasons.
Madrid host Huesca when they return after the international break, while Celta face a potentially season-defining relegation clash against Villarreal, who are a point and a place above them in 17th.
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