Post-Casemiro Real Madrid show why they are LaLiga’s favourites again

Real Madrid cruised to a comfortable victory over Celta Vigo, 4-1, in LaLiga’s second week of the season and the club’s first game since Casemiro departed for Manchester United. Karim Benzema scored first for Madrid and Iago Aspas equalized, but then Madrid turned it on and made it impossible for Celta Vigo to claw their way back in.

– Report: Real Madrid-Celta Vigo report | LaLiga table | Upcoming fixtures

Luka Modric, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde all scored in what would be an emphatic statement of intent from Real Madrid to put the rest of LaLiga on notice. ESPN’s Alex Kirkland has reaction from Abanca-Balaídos in Spain.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid Reaction

No Casemiro, no problem

Real Madrid’s midfield was always going to come under scrutiny in the first outing of the post-Casemiro era, after the midfielder’s £70 million move to Manchester United was confirmed a day earlier.

Here at Balaidos it was Aurelien Tchouameni — recruited at even greater expense earlier this summer — who stepped up to reassure Madrid fans that there is life after that legendary midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

Kroos didn’t feature here, absent with flu, but Modric — still somehow getting better aged 36 — was majestic alongside Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga. He put Madrid ahead with a trademark curling shot before half-time and later played a visionary pass for Vinicius Junior to make it 3-1 after the break.

There was plenty to like about Tchouameni’s performance too. The young France midfielder seemed to grow in confidence and authority as the match went on.

That third goal began with Tchouameni’s block inside the Real Madrid penalty area, before Modric and Vinicius did the rest — and it was his driving midfield run that made Madrid’s fourth goal, finished off by Fede Valverde.

There are greater challenges ahead, and like any young player, Tchouameni will have good and bad days, but this was a very encouraging start.

Centre-back dilemma for Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti has made it clear that last year’s preferred centre-back pair, David Alaba and Eder Militao, start this season as first choice despite the arrival of Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer from Chelsea.

Militao made another high-profile mistake here though — handling the ball for Celta’s first-half penalty equaliser — while Rudiger came off the bench to catch the eye with another physically dominant display.

Rudiger’s LaLiga debut at Almeria last weekend was hardly flawless, but you wonder how long Ancelotti can continue to omit a player with his character, experience and athleticism.

One rampaging run upfield, before exchanging passes with Karim Benzema, led to Madrid being awarded a second penalty of the night, which was missed by substitute Eden Hazard.

Madrid’s squad this year is packed with talent, and Rudiger has already shown an unexpected versatility, filling in in both full-back positions, but he’ll be keen to play more before too long, with Militao looking most likely to drop out.

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Aspas the main man for Celta once again

If Madrid are at risk of an over-reliance on Benzema to score the goals they need to challenge for trophies once again, Celta’s prospects this season rest entirely on the shoulders of Iago Aspas.

The 35-year-old local boy and club legend grabbed 18 league goals last year — only Benzema scored more — and after summer departures for attack-minded, creative forwards like Brais Mendez and Nolito, Aspas will have even more responsibility for both providing and finishing this time.

New signing Goncalo Paciencia did fine here as a target man, while the on-loan Carles Perez got a run out off the bench, but when you look at the Celta squad it’s only Aspas who looks likely to get into double figures.

He’s still capable of brilliance — one run on the stroke of half-time saw him skip past Modric and break forwards before running out of steam — and Celta have talented players elsewhere on the pitch such as Javi Galan and Fran Beltran, but they’re also uneven and worryingly inconsistent.

Success or failure for Celta this year will come down — as it has for much of the last decade — to how far Aspas can take them.

Player ratings

Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois, 6. Dani Carvajal, 6. David Alaba, 7. Eder Militao, 5. Ferland Mendy, 6. Aurelien Tchouameni, 8. Eduardo Camavinga, 7. Luka Modric, 8. Fede Valverde, 7. Vinicius Junior, 8. Karim Benzema, 7.

Subs: Antonio Rudiger, 7. Dani Ceballos, 6. Lucas Vazquez, 6. Eden Hazard, 5. Marco Asensio, 6.

Celta Vigo: Agustin Marchesin, 7. Hugo Mallo, 7. Joseph Aidoo, 6. Unai Nunez, 6. Javi Galan, 7. Renato Tapia, 5. Fran Beltran, 7. Oscar Rodriguez, 6. Franco Cervi, 7. Iago Aspas, 7. Goncalo Paciencia, 6.

Subs: Carles Perez, 6. Gabriel Veiga, 6. Luca de la Torre, 6.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Luka Modric, Real Madrid.

Outstanding. Helped the younger midfielders alongside him, scored the goal of the game, and created the crucial third for Vinicius which put Madrid out of sight.

WORST: Eder Militao, Real Madrid.

His performances — and especially his concentration — need to improve, or Rudiger will be in the team before long.

Highlights and notable moments

Karim Benzema, the best player in LaLiga last season, scored his opening goal of the 2022-23 campaign.

Celta Vigo pulled one back through an Iago Aspas penalty, but then Luka Modric got in on the action too.

Modric scored one of his signature goals from outside the box, later earning applause from the Celta Vigo fans when he was subbed off later in the game.

While Celta Vigo kept the match feeling close in the first half and the teams went to the break with Madrid only leading 2-1, the second half was a very different story.

When Madrid made it 3-1 on a gorgeous Vinicius Junior finish, it was pretty much over.

After the match: What the managers, players said

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti: “We are happy. We played well. We had good individual performances from players who haven’t played a lot, they’re new. Tchouameni played really well, and Camavinga. We showed a lot of energy on the pitch and the performance was good, we are confident in the future for sure.”

Ancelotti: “We have players who can play in different positions, it helps the team. I think the squad we have is a really good squad, I have no doubts about that.”

Real Madrid midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni: “Of course we have to think about a transition… The veterans understand it very well, because the youngsters showed last season too that they deserve a spot. So it’s important to manage the dressing room well, the understanding of the veterans and the patience of the youngsters.”

Tchouameni on Modric: “He’s immortal. Luka is always ready, he’s always prepared, he always plays well. The goal he scored changed the game. Until the goal the game was even, competitive, Celta pressed us well, it was hard for us in possession. In the second half they dropped their intensity, and we played the ball out well from the back and our transitions were spectacular.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

  • Karin Benzema scored his 19th penalty goal in LaLiga. Only six active players have scored more penalties than the Frenchman in LaLiga: Raúl García, Negredo, Parejo, Iago Aspas, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

  • Since the start of last season, no team has taken more penalty kicks than Real Madrid (13, tied with Levante) in LaLiga.

  • Iago Aspas scored his 136th LaLiga goal, the fourth-most among active players. He is also now tied for 10th most penalty kicks all-time in LaLiga with 31. Next on the list is David Villa with 32.

  • Luka Modric scored his 12th career LaLiga goal from outside the box. Of Modric’s 23 LaLiga goals, 12 have been from outside the box. Since Luka Modric joined Real Madrid in 2012-13, the only players with more goals from outside the box in LaLiga are Lionel Messi (67), Antoine Griezmann (25), Cristiano Ronaldo (24), Dani Parejo (18) and Iago Aspas (16).

  • Federico Valverde’s scored his first competitive club goal since his 98th minute winner against Barcelona in the SuperCup Semifinals on Jan. 12.

  • Aurelien Tchouameni had 13 recoveries. Casemiro, who led the team LaLiga in recoveries last season with 230, only had 1 game with 13+ recoveries with Real Madrid in LaLiga last season (14 vs Getafe in January 2022).

Up next

Real Madrid: The LaLiga title-holders play at Espanyol on Aug. 28 (watch LIVE on ESPN+) ahead of the home opener at the newly renovated Bernabeu against Real Betis on Sept. 3.

Celta Vigo: They head to Girona on Friday, Aug. 26 (watch LIVE on ESPN+) and then they host Cádiz one week later.

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