Benzema stays hot, leads Real Madrid to victory in opener

MADRID (AP) — Karim Benzema picked up from where he left off last season, playing a decisive role for Real Madrid once again.

Benzema led Madrid in its Spanish league opener on Saturday by scoring twice in the team’s comfortable 4-1 win at Alavés.

“Benzema is more than just a striker, he is a very complete player,” said Carlo Ancelotti, who began his second stint as Madrid coach. “He is a much more complete player than when I coached him a few years ago.”

Madrid also got a goal from Nacho Fernández, one of the defenders stepping in to replace veteran captain Sergio Ramos, who left after 16 seasons because the club didn’t want to extend his contract.

“This has just started, there’s still a long way to go, but it was important to begin with a victory like this,” Fernández said.

Benzema, the team’s top player and scoring leader last season under Zinedine Zidane, put Madrid ahead with a shot from inside the area after a clever backheel touch by Eden Hazard in the 48th minute. The France striker added his second from close range in the 62nd, six minutes after Fernández had found the net following a cross from Luka Modric.

Alavés pulled one back with a penalty kick converted by Joselu Mato in the 65th, and substitute Vinícius Júnior completed the scoring with a header two minutes into stoppage time.

The result kept Madrid unbeaten in league openers since 2008. It went without a title last season before Zidane quit and Ancelotti was re-hired. The Italian coach had won four titles with Madrid in his first stint with the club from 2013-15.

About 4,000 fans were at the Mendizorroza Stadium as Spanish health authorities allowed the league to restart with crowds of up to 40% of the venues’ capacity.

It was Madrid’s first of three straight away matches. The team’s first home game is scheduled for September, when it hopes to have the field of the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium ready. The venue is undergoing renovation but will continue hosting matches while construction work goes on.

In addition to Ramos, who joined Paris Saint-Germain, Madrid also lost defender Raphael Varane to Manchester United.

Central defender David Alaba, who joined from Bayern Munich, played as a left back on Saturday because of the absences of Ferland Mendy and Marcelo. Fernández and Éder Militão, reserves last season, started in the middle of the defense.

Madrid also was without veteran midfielder Toni Kroos because of an injury, with Federico Valverde playing in his position.

Ancelotti’s attack included Benzema, Hazard and Gareth Bale, who returned after a season on loan with Tottenham.

Alavés finished 16th last season, four points above the relegation zone.

On Sunday, Barcelona’s first season without Lionel Messi after nearly two decades starts with a home match against Real Sociedad. Defending champion Atlético Madrid opens at Celta Vigo.

OTHER RESULTS

Alfonso Espino scored seven minutes into second-half stoppage time to salvage Cádiz a 1-1 draw against Levante. The visitors had gone ahead with a goal from José Luis Morales in the 39th.

Promoted Mallorca took the lead against Real Betis with Brian Oliván scoring in the 25th but Juanmi Jiménez equalized for the visitors in the 59th.

Espanyol, which like Mallorca returned to the top flight after a one-year absence, drew 0-0 at Osasuna.

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