Bale and Benzema keep Madrid winning without Ronaldo

MADRID (AP) — Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are keeping Real Madrid’s attack alive in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Benzema scored twice and Bale once as Madrid came from behind to earn a 4-1 win at Girona on Sunday, remaining perfect in the Spanish league after two rounds.

Sergio Ramos also scored for Madrid as it kept pace with Barcelona. Athletic Bilbao, Levante and promoted Huesca can match them with six points when they play their matches on Monday.

Ramos and Benzema converted penalty kicks after the hosts had opened the scoring with Borja Garcia in the 16th minute at Montilivi Stadium. Bale added the third in a breakaway and Benzema closed the scoring from close range.

There was concern in Madrid about whether the team could maintain its attacking prowess after Ronaldo departed to Juventus but it’s so far, so good thanks to the veteran forwards who stayed.

Bale had also scored in the team’s league opener, a 2-0 win against Getafe, and Benzema had found the net in the team’s loss to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup final.

Bale, who hadn’t been starting when Ronaldo was still on the team, also set up Benzema’s second goal on Sunday, which had to be confirmed through VAR amid doubts about offside. The French striker also had a goal correctly disallowed for offside in the first half.

“We faced some difficulties at first but we played much better in the second half,” Madrid midfielder Casemiro said. “We played our game and it was completely different.”

Defending champion Barcelona won 1-0 at Valladolid on Saturday, while Atletico Madrid defeated Rayo Vallecano by the same score in its home opener.

VAR STRIKES AGAIN

With the help of a VAR-awarded goal, Espanyol beat Valencia 2-0 for its first win in the Spanish league this season.

Esteban Granero’s 62nd-minute free kick struck the crossbar and ricocheted to the ground, barely crossing the line before bouncing away as play continued. The referee didn’t initially award the goal but the call was reversed after the video assistant referee was used, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.

New to La Liga this season, VAR had already come into play in the first half when Valencia called for a handball inside the Espanyol area, but the referee’s initial interpretation prevailed and no penalty was awarded.

Borja Iglesias, signed from second-division club Zaragoza, sealed Espanyol’s victory with a shot from inside the area in the 68th.

Espanyol opened with a 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo while Valencia, which finished an impressive fourth last season, had started its campaign with a 1-1 home draw against Atletico Madrid.

SEVILLA HELD

Sevilla also had a chance to win two in a row but it could not manage more than a 0-0 draw against Villarreal at home.

Sevilla forward Yasser Ben Yedder nearly broke the deadlock in the 90th, but his shot struck the post.

Villarreal, which finished fifth last season, had opened with a home loss against Real Sociedad.

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