MADRID (AP) — Luka Modric is making it easy for Real Madrid fans to get over the departure of Casemiro.
A day after the Brazilian midfielder announced he was ending his decade-long run with Madrid to join Manchester United, his former team-mate scored a beautiful goal and set up another to seal the defending champions’ Beat Celta Vigo 4-1 for their second on Saturday. Back-to-back wins to start the Spanish league.
Modric’s performance was even applauded by Celta fans when the veteran was substituted in the second half.
“It’s always good,” Modric said. “It makes me happy to be recognized by other fans.”
Karim Benzema, Vincenzo Júnior and Federico Valverde also scored as Madrid comfortably chased down Almeria’s early lead.
It was Madrid’s first game since losing Casemiro, a reliable midfielder who was one of the defensive anchors of the Spanish powerhouse.
“We made history together here,” Modric said. He was a fundamental piece for us and we will miss him greatly as a player and as a person. We are sad to see him leave but that is part of football. We have to go on without him and each of us has to pay something extra for his absence.
Without the Brazilian, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has lined up a midfield with Eduardo Camwenga, new signing Aurelien Tachomeny and Modric, who did not start against Almeria.
Modric, 36, took over midfield duties on Saturday, controlling the pace in defense and attack.
He scored his goal at the Ballidos Stadium in the 41st minute with a well-placed curling shot into the top corner after an excellent move past defenders at the top of the area.
“Modric is a wonderful leader for us,” Ancelotti said. He played very well and scored the most important goal of the match because it put us ahead and made everything easier.
Benzema, Madrid’s player of the season last season, scored his first goal of the campaign by converting a penalty kick in the 14th minute after a handball by Celta midfielder Renato Tapia was spotted in the video review area.
Celta equalized with another penalty kick less than 10 minutes later, with Ego Aspas finding the net from the spot after a handball by Madrid defender Eder Melito.
After pushing his team forward, Modric sent a fine through-ball to Vinicius Jr. in stoppage time in the 56th, and the Brazilian forward found the net after beating Celta goalkeeper Agustin Marchisin.
Some Celta fans stood to applaud Modric when he was replaced by Dani Ceballos in the 77th.
Valverde blocked the goal in the 66th after a pass by Vincius Jr.
Substitute Eden Hazard missed a chance to extend Madrid’s lead when he missed a late penalty kick and Marcin’s own shot was saved.
Apart from Casemiro’s absence, Ancelotti also could not count on midfielder Toni Kroos as he had the flu. Forward Rodrigo was not in the squad due to injury.
Madrid have been chasing league titles since 2007-08.
American midfielder Luca de la Torre entered the 87th game to make his Spanish league debut.
BETIS won again
Real Betis picked up their second win in a row as Borja Iglesias converted a penalty kick in either half to beat Mallorca 2-1.
Vedat Mariki scored for the hosts, who were looking for their first win since a draw against Athletico Bilbao.
Mallorca loudly complained to the authorities because of the penalty.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis opened with a 3-0 win at home against Elche.
OSASUNA in a roll
Osasuna also needed penalty kicks in each half to win their second consecutive game to start their campaign.
After an early defeat to Sevilla, Osasuna beat 10-man Cadiz 2-0 with Chimi Avila and Cic García converting from the penalty spot.
Cádiz, in the first leg defeat at home to Real Sociedad, Tomas Alarcón was sent off with a second yellow card in the 76th.
On Sunday, Barcelona will try to bounce back from a disappointing opening draw at home when they visit Real Sociedad.
Atletico Madrid are looking for their second win in a row when they host Villarreal, while Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia visit Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic.