Celtic 0-3 Real Madrid: Holders begin with victory after losing Benzema to injury

·4-min read

Real Madrid survived a hostile reception and the loss of Karim Benzema to injury as they dug deep to begin their Champions League defence with a ruthless 3-0 win at Celtic.

Los Blancos' quest for a record-extending 15th European Cup got off to a bad start when losing star striker Benzema to a knee injury with 30 minutes played of Tuesday's opener.

Celtic had already struck the post through Callum McGregor at that point and continued to trouble their opponents on their return to the group stage after four seasons away.

But as they so often did last season, Madrid found a way thanks to quickfire goals from Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric, which Eden Hazard added to with a brilliant third.

Celtic 0-3 Real Madrid
Celtic 0-3 Real Madrid

Liel Abada and Reo Hatate had both asked questions of Thibaut Courtois in a lively opening half an hour for the hosts at a raucous Celtic Park.

Ange Postecoglou's side went even closer to scoring when McGregor was picked out by Giorgos Giakoumakis and unleashed a left-footed strike against the frame of the goal.

Madrid lost Benzema to injury soon after but would have been ahead before half-time had Joe Hart not denied Vinicius from a one-on-one.

The visitors, having survived another let-off when substitute Daizen Maeda scuffed a shot at Courtois from close range, opened the scoring 11 minutes into the second half.

Federico Valverde found Vinicius with a lovely ball into the centre of the box at the end of a swift attack, and the forward coolly picked his spot past Hart with a first-time finish.

Madrid had a second four minutes later as Modric, making his 100th appearance for the club in the competition, prodded past Hart with an outside-of-the-boot finish.

It was plain sailing from that point on, and Hazard – the man brought on for Benzema – added a third from close range after some smart play from Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal at the end of a fine team move.

What does it mean? Champions show their class

Both sides had started their seasons in winning style – seven victories in a row for Celtic and five for Madrid – and this first contest between the clubs since the 1979-80 European Cup quarter-final was evenly balanced up until the visitors' opener.

Vinicius' strike stunned the home crowd, though, and Madrid's quality and experience shone through from that point on as they held their opponents at arm's length.

It was a well-earned victory in the end and ensures only one of the past 28 reigning champions have lost their first match of the following season's competition (Liverpool versus Napoli in the 2019-20 campaign).

Vinicius steps up in Benzema absence

Benzema was unable to shake off a knee injury, seemingly sustained after playing a pass, and that could have spelt bad news for Madrid as he had scored 10 of his side's past 15 goals in the competition at that point.

However, Vinicius has himself played a big part for Los Blancos in Europe in recent times and stepped up with another strike, his 17th goal involvement in his past 18 appearances in all competitions.

Hazard has his say

Should Benzema's injury turn out not to be serious, it could prove a blessing in disguise for Ancelotti as it also allowed Hazard to show what he is capable of during an unexpected hour on the pitch.

Hazard's effervescent performance was rewarded with a goal, with that just the second the Belgium international has scored for Madrid in the Champions League.

Key Opta Facts

– Celtic have never won their opening game of a Champions League campaign, with this the 11th time they have failed to do so (D2 L9). Their last three have all been defeats by at least three goals – 0-7 v Barcelona in 2016-17, 0-5 v Paris Saint-Germain in 2017-18 and 0-3 v Real Madrid in 2022-23.
– Since the start of last season, Real Madrid have won 100 per cent of their away games in the group stage of the Champions League (4/4) without conceding a single goal, scoring 12 times themselves.
– There were 33 uninterrupted passes in the build-up to Hazard's goal; since 2003-04 (as far back as data is available), this is the most in the build-up to any of Real Madrid's 434 goals in the competition in this period.
– At 36 years and 362 days, Modric became the oldest player to score for Real Madrid in the European Cup/Champions League since Ferenc Puskas in September 1965 (38y 173d v Feyenoord).

What's next?

Celtic host Livingston in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday, while Real Madrid welcome Mallorca to the Santiago Bernabeu on their return to LaLiga action on Sunday.