Real Madrid got their La Liga campaign under way with a 2-0 win over Getafe at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday, where Gareth Bale scored one goal and helped set up another in his 2018-19 league debut.
Dani Carvajal's looping header opened the scoring in the first half before Bale doubled their lead at a crucial juncture in the 51st minute to give manager Julen Lopetegui a winning start to his first league term with Madrid.
Luka Modric and Raphael Varane both started on the bench, but Los Blancos soared to victory nonetheless in what was an encouraging first league outing under Lopetegui.
Gareth Bale Shows He Will Revel in Ronaldo Leaving Madrid
An encouraging pre-season has only intensified chatter that Gareth Bale will be key to helping Madrid overcome Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus this summer, and Sunday's display only aided in cementing that view:
The signs were clear early on that Bale, named in an attacking three alongside Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, was enjoying his football in Ronaldo's absence, to the downfall of Getafe left-back Leandro Cabrera:
The Welshman remains out wide but came close to opening Madrid's La Liga account when he got on the end of a fabulous cross in with a first-half diving header, though he could only connect with David Soria's crossbar.
Had he dispatched that, Bale would have kept up an impressive Madrid tradition, though journalist Richard Martin noted he was still involved in crafting their breakthrough:
It was his ball in that led to Soria's failed clearance for Carvajal to score, but Bale showed all his predatory instinct to capitalise on some poor Getafe defending and hoover up his chance to make it 2-0 on 51 minutes.
Broadcaster Deji Faremi argued another addition is needed to help make up for Ronaldo's absence, although there's no rule that states Madrid must score the same amount to achieve similar success:
Further assessment of Lopetegui's approach will be required to see how Bale's role in the attack has changed—if at all—but his first league outing suggests he's got the potential to be more of a finishing product.
More than anything else, Ronaldo leaving has left a major void in the attack's seniority, and as a first league outing, Bale showed incredible promise for what's to come in terms of the influence he's set to have.
Lopetegui's Tiki Taka Influence Evident Despite Modric Absence
You can take the manager out of the Spain managerial post, but you can't take that Spanish team influence out of the manager, it seems, after Lopetegui showed on Sunday his intention to push a more pass-oriented narrative with Madrid.
That's not to say Madrid couldn't have done with the Croat—they would likely have looked a lot more incisive had he started—but the players supplied were sufficient to complete the task at hand.
Lopetegui won't have discouraged speculation he prefers Spanish stars by starting the likes of Dani Ceballos, Asensio and Isco, though Harrison argued they were a positive:
Fan account totalBarca couldn't see the same change in tactics under Lopetegui, however, albeit with some bias perhaps tilting opinion:
Zinedine Zidane employed a slightly more wild approach in the Madrid helm to great success, operating more prominently on the counter, though the possibility appears that will change under the new chief. On Sunday, Madrid completed 91 per cent of their passes, per WhoScored.com; their average in the league last season was 88.3 per cent.
Fans need not worry too much about the future of Modric and Varane, however, which Los Blancos writer Kiyan Sobhani simply attributed to both players taking longer to adjust after featuring in the World Cup final:
Getafe Must Evolve Big-Game Tactics to Crack European Code
It's a difficult premise for smaller sides to approach the heavyweights of their division, particularly in Spain, where many would agree La Liga's Big Three rule the roost with a tighter grip than other major leagues.
But Getafe are at a crossroads in which they have the potential to break their own mould following last season's eighth-place league finish, their best in La Liga since they took sixth in 2009-10.
Last term saw those very building blocks put in place as they managed one draw against Barcelona, two wins over Valencia and a draw against Sevilla, though they failed to get a point from Real or Atletico Madrid.
For too long the Madrid outfit settled for being "plucky" or "admirable" against their capital city rivals, but even fan account Managing Madrid highlighted a result could have been on the cards for Sunday's visitors at half-time:
Managing Madrid @managingmadrid
HT: Real Madrid 1-0 Getafe. Don't want to say "dominant" performance but Madrid controlled the entire game. The away side didn't get a shot off & Los Blancos had over 80% of the possession. We could finish some of our moves better but Getafe is a well organized team. I'm happy.
But the chance was never grasped, and familiar trends of allowing the bigger sides to attack set in. Jorge Molina and Gaku Shibasaki were given sub-standard supply in attack, and two defensive errors cost them otherwise a chance to surprise.
Debuting against Lopetegui's Madrid was particularly difficult after he's come in to place such an emphasis on passing and possession, combined with the hosts' desperation to start with a win.
If Getafe are to improve on last season's finish and qualify for Europe this season, they need cooler heads but fierier hearts in their mission to show Spain's elite they aren't to be trampled on.
Los Merengues will be on the road in Week 2 and travel to Catalonia to face Girona next Sunday, while Getafe are scheduled to host Eibar in their first home fixture of the new campaign on Friday.