Three points and three goals for Madrid on Three Kings' Day

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Real Madrid returned to La Liga action on Three Kings' Day in Spain, but Celta Vigo did not offer any presents on a plate for Carlo Ancelotti's men, as Los Blancos huffed and puffed their way to a flattering 3-0 victory at the Bernabeu.

The Galicians will leave Spain's capital feeling extremely hard done by after giving a pedestrian Madrid side a real run for their money in their first match back following the winter break. Luis Enrique's men may even count themselves unlucky not to have left with all three points after carving out the better chances for much of the match.

However, Karim Benzema broke the deadlock after the hour mark when Ancelotti threw caution to the wind in attack, throwing on both Jesé and Gareth Bale and playing with four up front, and Cristiano Ronaldo started the year with a bang with a record-breaking brace of goals to rub salt into the Vigo wounds.

- Corrigan: Second half outburst

Three Kings' Day is the present-giving day in Spain, when children either open plenty if they've been good or find a piece of coal if they haven't, and Los Blancos' players looked to be heading for the latter thanks to a sluggish performance in the first half and the opening exchanges of the second.

Maybe the long trip to Qatar for a friendly with Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly match during the "break" was the reason for the slow start. Maybe the players had a larger-than-usual festive feast with their families on Sunday. Whatever it was, Madrid were below par, and the visitors produced an impressive and disciplined display to make the day as difficult as possible.

Marketing opportunity aside, Ancelotti had looked to use the clash with PSG as the chance to get his players in gear ahead of their return to La Liga. As it happened, the exercise had the opposite impact, with the long trip to Doha seemingly taking its toll, and before Madrid found the net, Vigo looked to take advantage.

The hosts had plenty of the ball, but in Rafinha, the visitors had a dangerous player, and he was crucial to Vigo's attacks in the first half. Madrid's defence didn't really help, failing to deal with a number of corner kicks but getting away with being punished, somehow.

The halftime whistles highlighted the displeasure of the Madridistas, who desperately sought their own present: three points to keep pace with leaders Barcelona and Atletico.

Madrid improved in the second half, but only after Celta had a great chance to open the scoring. Rafinha was again the architect when he produced a superb ball for Charles, but with Diego Lopez racing from his line, he slipped his effort just wide to let Madrid off the hook.

Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid/Getty ImagesJese made another impressive contribution.

The chance came after Ancelotti introduced Jesé and Bale and changed to 4-2-4, and it was the former shot across the face of goal to allow Benzema to open the scoring that brought a huge sigh of relief from the majority inside the Bernabeu.

After Ronaldo notched the second from a Dani Carvajal cross, the game was over as a contest, but there was still time for Bale to add to his impressive assist tally -- he now has six -- with a fine ball to create Ronaldo's second.

The Portuguese superstar wasn't at his stellar best, but his two goals will only add weight to calls for him to win the Ballon D'or next week. His opener drew a point to the sky for Portugal legend Eusebio, who died this past weekend, and to whom tributes were paid with a minute's silence before kickoff.

Ronaldo's second was his 20th of the season and the 400th of his career. Two hundred thirty of those have come for Madrid, with 118 for Manchester United, 47 for Portugal and five for Sporting. If 2013 was Ronaldo's year, he has begun 2014 seeking to make sure this one belongs to him too.

Meanwhile, Luka Modric shone in the middle of the park throughout, and the former Tottenham man is fast becoming one of Madrid's key players, if he isn't already.

Indeed, the midfield maestro lifted the pace of the match throughout, and it could be argued that Madrid would miss him more than Xabi Alonso at the moment. They may soon find out after the veteran Spaniard had to come off at halftime after telling Ancelotti he felt uncomfortable.

He looked it, too, and Madridistas will be hoping it was a precautionary measure. Asier Illarramendi replaced him and slotted in alongside Modric. Madrid's midfield options this season are sublime.

It was a scoreline that more than flattered the hosts, but the aim was to start the year with a win, and that is precisely what was achieved. The performances will need to improve in the coming weeks, but to beat a well-disciplined Vigo side while playing well below par can be seen as a satisfactory start to 2014.


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