Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio scored as Real Madrid beat Celta Vigo 2-0 in La Liga on Saturday to win their first game of 2021.
A hectic start saw Nacho clear a dangerous shot from Iago Aspas with Thibaut Courtois beaten. Real Madrid responded by breaking quickly down the left, and Asensio crossed for Vazquez to open the scoring with a far-post header. The rest of the first half was quiet, with few opportunities for either side, until Dani Carvajal volleyed wide.
After the break, Aspas limped off injured, and shortly afterwards Madrid scored their second. Vazquez was the provider this time, playing in Asensio for a straightforward finish after Luka Modric had won the ball in midfield. Madrid’s best chance after that saw Karim Benzema shoot wide, as Celta tasted defeat for the first time since November.
Celta Vigo went into this match as La Liga’s in-form side — a team transformed under new coach Eduardo Coudet, with five wins in their past six league games — and with Aspas arguably the best player in Spain this season. It was somewhat surprising, then, to see Real Madrid look so comfortable here, especially in the absence of captain and stalwart Sergio Ramos.
The other big plus was the performance of Asensio. There have been positive signs in recent weeks, but this game looked like confirmation that he is back to something approaching his best, as a goal and an assist followed an impressive display against Granada before Christmas.
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In the first half, Madrid seemed fairly content to defend their one-goal lead, and didn’t push on for a second that would have put the game beyond Celta. That meant there was always the possibility of conceding, and letting the visitors back into the game, although that fear was put to bed when Asensio doubled their lead after the break.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Zinedine Zidane made two changes to the team that drew 1-1 at Elche, with Nacho replacing Ramos, who had a stomach problem, and Ferland Mendy coming in for Marcelo. The coach is looking more reluctant to rotate than ever before — perhaps because of a lack of trust in the alternatives, such as Martin Odegaard — but his selection here was vindicated. Sticking with Vazquez and Asensio out wide, when it must have been tempting to bring in Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard, turned out to be an inspired move.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 — A very quiet game without much to do. Beaten by Aspas with five minutes played, only to be helped out by Nacho, and only faced one shot on target all night.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 — Could have scored Madrid’s second before half-time when he shot off target. Kept Celta’s Nolito quiet, responding well to the criticism he received for conceding the penalty against Elche.
DF Raphael Varane, 7 — Did well against Aspas and Santi Mina, although it was his centre-back partner who stood out on the night.
DF Nacho, 8 — Filled in extremely well for Ramos. Didn’t look rusty at all despite spending a run of games out of the team. Dealt impressively with Aspas’ early effort.
DF Ferland Mendy, 7 — A better option than Marcelo, even if he lacks the Brazilian’s flair. One wild shot off-target in the first half from a decent position. Madrid are now 30 league games unbeaten with Mendy as a starter.
MF Casemiro, 7 — Had a difficult job to do, with Celta picking so many players — Aspas, Denis Suarez, Nolito — who like to operate in his area of the pitch. Picked up another yellow card.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 — Couldn’t add to his incredible scoring record — six goals in 13 games entering this contest — against Celta. Taken off before the end to rest what must be tired legs.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Had a first-half shot blocked. Caught by Renato Tapia, who was booked, before half-time. Won the ball back to set the move in motion that led to Madrid’s crucial second goal.
FW Marco Asensio, 8 — A quite brilliant assist for the opening goal, the perfect delivery from the left allowing Vazquez to score at the far post. Carded for a clumsy challenge on Aspas before half-time. Took his goal well, too, scoring for the first time in six long months.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 8 — Opened the scoring with a header, his second goal this season, and created the second goal. Worked just as hard to help out in defence on the right, at times playing as an auxiliary full-back.
FW Karim Benzema, 7 — Captained the team in the absence of Ramos. Enjoyed the spaces Celta’s attacking style left him. Looked for Asensio rather than shooting from a good position in the first half. Scraped the outside of the post in the second.
FW Eden Hazard, N/R — Played an unremarkable 15 minutes as he continues to look for form and fitness.
MF Martin Odegaard, N/R — Didn’t have much opportunity to make an impact in less than 10 minutes on the pitch.
FW Vinicius Junior, N/R — A late introduction, without much to do.
MF Federico Valverde, N/R — Helped see out the game and protect Madrid’s lead.
FW Mariano Diaz, N/R — Came on for the last few minutes.