Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick and Eduardo Camavinga netted on his debut as Real Madrid marked their return to the Santiago Bernabeu with a thrilling 5-2 win over Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Madrid last played at their iconic home on March 1, 2020, before remodelling work began on the stadium, and fans were treated to a real spectacle.
Twice Celta led in the first half, with Benzema’s first strike sandwiched between Santi Mina’s opener and Franco Cervi’s rather fortuitous tap-in.
But Benzema nodded Los Blancos level again early in the second half before setting up in-form Vinicius Junior with a defence-splitting pass.
Camavinga put the game beyond Celta soon after his introduction from the bench and Benzema completed his treble from the spot after some dazzling play by Vinicius.
Celta stunned Madrid in the fourth minute as Miguel Gutierrez was robbed out wide and neither Casemiro nor Nacho Fernandez could clear, allowing Iago Aspas to nudge the ball on to Mina and he slotted past Thibaut Courtois.
Madrid’s response was good, their subsequent dominance rewarded with the equaliser – Benzema driving in a Federico Valverde cut-back from 12 yards.
But the visitors soon restored their lead. Hugo Mallo latched on to Aspas’ lay-off and produced a disguised pass to pick out Cervi, whose initial audacious flick hit the post and came back to him for an easy finish.
Marshalling Benzema continued to prove difficult for Celta, however, and the Frenchman got his second of the day just after the restart with a wonderful header from Gutierrez’s searching cross.
He then turned provider as Madrid went in front for the first time in the match, pulling out wide and playing a throughball beyond the defence for Vinicius, who capitalised on Jeison Murillo’s dozing in the Celta offside trap and calmly stroked past Matias Dituro.
Camavinga got off the mark for his new club six minutes after coming off the bench, burying from a few yards out after Dituro could only parry Luka Modric’s shot at the end of a surging solo run.
Vinicius then won a penalty, his feet too quick for Denis Suarez, and Benzema subsequently rounded off an engrossing match by securing his hat-trick with an emphatic finish.
What does it mean? Madrid make a statement as they go top
While it is of course early days, this was a very impressive way to go top of LaLiga, as Los Blancos moved above Valencia and Atletico Madrid on goal difference.
Even when they were trailing, Madrid managed to retain impressive focus in attack and always looked a threat – they clearly had belief that the tide would turn, and sure enough it did.
If Benzema continues his early-season form then it will be difficult to look past Madrid as title favourites, but even if he does not, Vinicius appears to be coming of age and now looks decisive where he once appeared wasteful.
The Brazilian now has four goals for 2021-22, already one more than he managed in 2020-21, which means he is adding substance to his flamboyance. The early signs are that it is a deadly combination.
Benzema is Karim of the crop
There were a few standout performers here, with Aspas potent for Celta and Vinicius almost unplayable, but Benzema was the star of the show. He scored his hat-trick from just five shots but was also a huge creative presence, his three key passes – including an assist – only bettered by Aspas (four).
The France star has now been involved in nine goals (five goals, four assists) already this term, level with Cristiano Ronaldo (nine in 2014-15) as the Madrid player with the most goal involvements over their first four matches of a season in the 21st century.
Murillo the weak link
It was a difficult day for Murillo, who was given the run-around by Benzema and Vinicius. But his woes went beyond that – he was also slow to react in the build-up to Madrid’s third goal, playing Vinicius onside and from that point there never looked a way back for Celta.
Madrid turn their attention to the Champions League as they go to Inter on Wednesday before a tricky LaLiga trip to in-form Valencia four days later. Celta face Cadiz on Friday.
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