MADRID -- Real Madrid continued their red-hot start to the season as goals from Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo were enough to see the defending LaLiga champions past Real Betis at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
- Report: Madrid 2-1 Betis | LaLiga table | Upcoming fixtures
Carlo Ancelotti's team have won all of their four games this season and sit top of the league table.
JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Vinicius Jr. adds scoring consistency to his game
For all his dramatic improvement last season, which he ended by scoring the winner in a Champions League final, Vinicius Junior never managed to find the net in three games in a row. In fact, he hadn't done so as a Real Madrid player -- the last time was as a teenager for Flamengo -- before this run of goals against Celta Vigo, Espanyol and now Real Betis on successive weekends.
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Saturday's effort was a special goal, too -- exactly the kind of finish that used to appear beyond him. He timed his run onto David Alaba's pass in behind the defence and coolly lifted the ball over Rui Silva in the Betis goal at precisely the right moment. It wasn't all perfect from him, mind you -- he had a great chance to restore Madrid's lead just after Betis had levelled, skying it over the bar -- but the signs are there that a player once derided for his finishing has now developed a genuine goal threat, week after week.
Last year's 17 league goals was hugely impressive -- only Karim Benzema and Iago Aspas scored more in LaLiga -- and if Vinicius can increase that tally this season, that's worrying news for everyone else.
2. Last year's good Bernabeu vibes continue
Saturday marked Madrid's first home game of the season after kicking off 2022-23 with three consecutive away wins to allow work on the Santiago Bernabeu redevelopment to continue at full speed during August. The new stadium isn't close to being completed yet -- it isn't expected to be done until May -- but on the pitch, the team is looking close to the finished article.
Home performances at the Bernabeu were key to Madrid's miraculous Champions League-winning run last year. This was a very different occasion -- a sunny afternoon in early September -- but last season's love-in between the crowd and Carlo Ancelotti's team is showing no signs of hitting the rocks just yet.
There was a celebratory mood before kick-off, with the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup trophies both being presented to the home fans, and that positivity continued when Vinicius put the team ahead early on. Even Betis' quick equaliser didn't do much to dampen the crowd's spirits -- Madrid have come back from much, much worse -- and Rodrygo's second-half winner felt like something of an inevitability.
It's four league games played and four wins for Madrid, with attention turning back to this club's favourite competition, the Champions League, next week.
3. Betis fall just short, but they'll be fine
Betis' 2021-22 season was remarkable: winning their first trophy in 17 years by lifting the Copa del Rey and finishing fifth in LaLiga, just outside the Champions League places. That success might have raised expectations to a level beyond what is reasonable, but a difficult summer transfer market -- where the club spent most of the time working to register new signings and hang onto key players -- was a needed dose of realism.
Their start to the season had been flawless, with three wins out of three putting them level with Madrid at the top before Saturday's loss, and even in this narrow defeat they were competitive for long periods. Sergio Canales is one of LaLiga's most elegant, influential playmakers -- although they were unfortunate to lose his partner Nabil Fekir to injury early on here -- and Borja Iglesias, who set up Canales to score, is an exceptional centre-forward.
The squad has a tidy blend of youth and experience -- Joaquin, 41, made a late appearance off the bench -- and coach Manuel Pellegrini is a steady hand.
Last season will be a tough act to follow, but chasing fourth place is a reasonable target this time.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois 6; Dani Carvajal 6, Eder Militao 6, David Alaba 7, Ferland Mendy 6; Aurelien Tchouameni 8, Luka Modric 7, Eduardo Camavinga 6; Rodrygo Goes 8, Vinicius Junior 8, Karim Benzema 7.
Subs: Federico Valverde 7, Dani Ceballos 6, Toni Kroos 6, Antonio Rudiger 6.
Real Betis (4-2-3-1): Rui Silva 6; Youssouf Sabaly 6, Luiz Felipe 7, Edgar Gonzalez 6, Alex Moreno 6; Guido Rodriguez 6, Andres Guardado 6; Sergio Canales 8, Nabil Fekir 5, Juanmi 6; Borja Iglesias 7.
Subs: Luiz Henrique 7, Willian Jose 6, Aitor Ruibal 6, Joaquin Sanchez 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Aurelien Tchouameni, Real Madrid
A hugely impressive home debut, dominating the midfield. Tchouameni looked equally good with and without the ball -- earning the applause of an appreciative Bernabeu crowd with some clever touches, neat passing and well-timed interceptions.
WORST: Nabil Fekir, Real Betis
Fekir tends to excel against the big teams, but here he barely had any time to make an impact on the game before being forced off with an injury.
Highlights and notable moments
As noted in the reaction points, the atmosphere at the Bernabeu seemed perfect today. A great day for a great game and it never hurts when the home team wins ...
Good to be back pic.twitter.com/PGniwCExpD— Alex Kirkland (@alexkirkland) September 3, 2022
After the match, Carlo Ancelotti was full of praise for visiting Betis:
👔 @MrAncelotti: "We have started the season well. Toda's match was difficult, we had trouble getting the ball, because @RealBetis_en is a tough rival. Later on we controlled the ball well and were more vertical, and we deserved to win."#RealMadridRealBetis pic.twitter.com/yKVMfz9sCB— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) September 3, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
"We're really happy. This is just getting started. After three games away from home we're back with the fans and we won. ... I'm happy to have scored, and to help when we needed it. I'm coming back from an injury and I'm better every day. ... I always want [to start] and I'll keep working, I think I can be [a starter]. Fede [Valverde] is a top player, it's tough competing with him." -- Real Madrid forward Rodrygo
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Real Madrid starts the season with five straight victories in all competitions for the first time since 2016-17 (won first 6 matches that season).
- Real Madrid has won 56% of its LaLiga meetings vs. Real Betis (63 wins in 112 games). The only teams they have played at least 100 times and own a higher win percentage against in LaLiga are Zaragoza (64%), Espanyol (61%), Celta (59%) and Real Sociedad (57%).
- Of Vinicius' 40 goals with Real Madrid, 30 have been with his right foot, 8 with the left and 2 via headers.
Real Madrid: Can Ancelotti & Co. keep the good vibes flowing? Real Madrid face three games over the next 10 days, visiting Celtic in Champions League matchday one (Sept. 6) before hosting Mallorca in LaLiga (Sept. 11) and then RB Leipzig in Champions League matchday two (Sept. 14). It seems reasonable to expect them to remain perfect on the season after this trio of games ...
Real Betis: Pellegrini's side have time to shrug off a competitive, hard-fought defeat at the defending LaLiga champions, with their next game coming on Thursday at HJK Helsinki in the Europa League before a home date with Villarreal in the league (Sept. 11). They're still second in LaLiga behind Madrid after four games.