Benzema brace leads Madrid past Celta with 9/10 performance

Karim Benzema scored two goals and created another as Real Madrid beat Celta Vigo 3-1 on Saturday to go second in La Liga ahead of Barcelona and put more pressure on leaders Atletico Madrid.

Benzema opened the scoring with a cool finish from just inside the box after Toni Kroos had unlocked the Celta defence. The French striker then went close to creating a second, firing in a cross that bounced off Vinicius Junior’s chest and over the bar, before scoring again himself. Again, Kroos was the provider, after winning the ball back in a dangerous position.

Celta pulled a goal back through Santi Mina‘s header, and went on to improve after half-time, Iago Aspas forcing a save from Thibaut Courtois. Benzema saw a late shot saved after Nestor Araujo gifted him the ball, and then Aspas hit the post with a free kick, before substitute Marco Asensio ended the contest in stoppage time.

Positives

Benzema is in the form of his life, with eight goals in his past six games in all competitions, and 17 for this La Liga season. It’s just as well, because besides the Frenchman, there aren’t enough regular goal scorers in this Real Madrid team. Madridistas will be hoping Benzema’s run continues beyond the international break and into a week that will see the team face both Barca and Liverpool in quick succession.

Madrid’s last loss at Balaidos saw them say goodbye to their title hopes in 2014, leaving Barca and Atletico to battle it out. Benzema’s early brace put to bed any real worries of a similar result here. The Madrid press on the morning of the game urged the team to replicate the end of 2019-20 season run that saw them win 10 games in a row. In all likelihood, that’s what will be required to leapfrog Barca and Atleti this time — and this was a start.

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Negatives

Having gone two goals ahead inside half an hour, coach Zinedine Zidane will have been disappointed to see the team concede Mina’s header not long afterward, to keep a match alive that really should have been put to bed. The defending for that set piece was woeful. In such situations, the absence of Sergio Ramos and his defensive organisation doesn’t help.

The second-half display was concerning overall, as Celta shrugged off the midfield stranglehold that Kroos and Luka Modric had imposed on the game and created a growing number of chances. Ultimately, though, Madrid managed to hold on and secure the win, and that’s what they’ll choose to focus on.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — Zidane went for an extra midfielder in the shape of Federico Valverde for this away game against a good footballing side in Eduardo Coudet’s Celta, leaving Asensio and Rodrygo on the bench. The team started well, and the first half hour was one of the best spells we’ve seen from Madrid this season. The game drifted away from them, though, and when Celta improved after half-time Zidane only made one change, a strange one on its face, bringing on Asensio for Kroos.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Blameless for Celta’s goal. One good second-half save from Aspas, diving low to his left. Otherwise had little to do.

DF Lucas Vazquez, 6 — His pace and crossing ability usually give Madrid an outlet on the right, but here Vazquez couldn’t get forward as much as he’d like.

DF Raphael Varane, 6 — Led the defence as it came under increasing pressure as the match went on.

DF Nacho, 7 — Found it hard going but dug deep against the combative Mina and talented Aspas. Brought an end to a promising second-half Celta break, bringing down Aspas with a clumsy challenge that rightly saw him booked.

DF Ferland Mendy, 6 — Kept busy by Brais Mendez, and later by Augusto Solari, who beat him with one clever back-heel.

MF Casemiro, 7 — Back from his midweek suspension. His most important intervention saw him head Aspas’ dangerous late free kick onto the post, when it was headed for the back of the net.

MF Toni Kroos, 8 — Picked up another two assists. A marvellous piece of quick footwork created Madrid’s first goal, and quick thinking saw him win the ball for the second. Booked for a shirt pull on Aspas. Surprisingly taken off early.

MF Luka Modric, 6 — Not at his imperial best, Modric looks like he needs a rest. A shot well over the bar in the second half summed up his afternoon. Unlucky to be booked for a supposed late foul on Renato Tapia.

MF Federico Valverde, 6 — Played wide right, picked for his constant running and ability to win the ball high up the pitch. Set up Vinicius for a second-half chance and later had a shot blocked himself. Hasn’t got going this season since coming back from injury.

FW Vinicius Junior, 7 — Had his best game of the season against Atalanta and had his moments here too. Used his pace to beat keeper Ivan Villar to an early cross-field ball. Could have scored with his chest after that, and threatened in the second half too.

FW Karim Benzema, 9 — Six games in a row scoring, equalling his best-ever run. His opener was a sensational strike made to look easy and the second wasn’t far behind. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul Gonzalez and Alfredo di Stefano have now scored more league goals for the club.

Substitutes

FW Marco Asensio, N/R — Replaced Kroos for the last 20 minutes, as the team came under pressure, and grabbed another goal off the bench, just as he did in midweek.