Bale nets as Zidane gets off to a winning start at Real Madrid
New manager dropped Thibaut Courtois for Keylor Navas in his first game back in charge
Gareth Bale of Real Madrid shoots during the La Liga win over Celta Vigo at the Bernabéu. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Real Madrid 2 Celta Vigo 0
Isco and Keylor Navas rewarded Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane for naming them in his first LaLiga team since returning to the Bernabéu as their goal and clean sheet helped beat Celta Vigo 2-0.
Gareth Bale had not lost his place under Santiago Solari, who was sacked on Monday before three-time Champions League-winning manager Zidane was reappointed in a somewhat unexpected move, but question marks over the Welshman’s long-term future in Madrid persist and he duly answered some of his critics with a second-half goal to kill off the match.
The eyebrow-raising exclusion from Zidane’s team sheet was goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, with Costa Rican stopper Navas recalled in his place after spending much of the season on the bench.
Also back in were wing-back Marcelo and versatile forward Isco, who would play a vital role in the match having largely been used a substitute by both Zidane’s immediate successor Julen Lopetegui and predecessor Solari.
After Sergio Ramos and Maxi Gomez had enjoyed half chances at either end, Navas repaid his reinstated coach’s faith by denying Gomez in style with a deft flick to repel a bullet header.
Former Tottenham star Bale, in and out of the starting line-up towards the end of Zidane’s first spell in charge and perennially linked with a move back to the Premier League despite his achievements with Real, was leading the line and rattled the crossbar on the half-hour mark with a left-footed drive.
As half-time drew nearer, Ramos nodded past a post from a Toni Kroos corner — the ‘Zidane effect’ had not inspired a Real goal in the first 45 minutes of his second tenure.
The screw began to turn after the break, though, as Karim Benzema twice came knocking and Isco watched as his speculative effort from a Luka Modric was blocked by the Celta defence.
The former Malaga man had better luck just after the hour when, assisted by Benzema, he picked out the bottom corner before pointing to Zidane as he celebrated scoring his first league goal since September.
Benzema, who had kept Real afloat with his 16-goal contribution across all competitions during the turbulent reign of Solari, remained hungry and came closest to notching after Bale picked him out in the middle of the Celta box.
The Welsh would-be provider showed quick feet to control Marcelo’s ball in to the D in the 76th minute before slotting it past Ruben Blanco to double Real’s lead.
Marco Asensio and Kroos both attempted to make it 3-0, but their attempts sailed over.