Eden Hazard rounds off Real Madrid’s devastating second-half blitz at Celtic | Champions League

A game that began and ended in a torrent of noise. The important part, though, was what came in between. Three second-half goals and an immaculate display of second-half possession gave Real Madrid the perfect start to their title defense. Was it deserved, did it follow the run of play, did it make any kind of sense? For Madrid, these are questions that have long since ceased to trouble them. This is simply what they want. They enter your house, sniff the air, and then take what they came for.

For Celtic, a valuable learning experience at the highest level. The roar of pride and belief that greeted them at the final whistle was a deserved salute for a team that had left every fragment of themselves on that Parkhead pitch.

They ran and hustled and competed with this great Madrid side for almost an hour. Had they managed to take their chances, they might even have won. But in this rarefied air, those are the narrow hinges of success and failure. Celtic knew how to start. Madrid knew how to finish.

“The first goal was always going to be important,” lamented Ange Postecoglou, who refused to be too heartened by the performance. For this is a growing side, a learning side, a side still accustoming itself to this kind of challenge.

Most of all, they will remember the incredible swell of noise and fervour that started this game, back when the night still felt alive with color and possibility. The East End had been waiting for this. Five years for the Champions League proper, nine since their last group-stage victory on home soil, and the classic anthems were greeted with a stupendous din from a crowd that senses its team may once again be capable of greatness.

Celtic came to play. They did not charge recklessly into the game, they did not simply hack long balls up to the returning Giorgos Giakoumakis. Postecoglou has taught them better than that. Instead they passed it through midfield purposefully, waited out the spells of Madrid possession, tried to hit the wide open spaces behind their high line. Reo Hatate even had the audacity to dispossess the great Luka Modric when he dithered on the ball in his own half. From front to back, Celtic were showing the 14-time champions a magnificent disrespect.

Real Madrid's Vinícius Junior guides the opener past Joe Hart.
Real Madrid’s Vinícius Jr guides the opener past Joe Hart. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

There were chances too, good chances: a couple for Liel Abada, a couple for Hatate, a shot from the captain, Callum McGregor, that cracked against the inside of the post. Madrid were further discomfited by an early injury to Karim Benzema, who collected a knock to his knee, limped around for a while and eventually came off for Eden Hazard.

So Real retreated into their tried and tested patterns: Toni Kroos dropping into left-back, Ferland Mendy stepping up to support Vinícius Jr, and all of a sudden Real had a ticking bomb on that flank. If the left-wing is their chaos, the right-wing is their sanity: Modric and Fede Valverde steadily building play, probing for gaps, always unbalancing, always tilting the pitch.

Over time, order was established. Madrid finished the first half stronger and never relinquished that sense of control. The rusty Hazard was gradually discovering some rhythm, and was involved in the counterattack that produced the first goal.

Valverde darted up the right and rolled the ball into a deserted penalty area. He knew, without looking, that Vinícius would be galloping into space at Shinkansen speed to apply the finish.

Even Celtic processed this crushing blow, Madrid dealt them another. Modric, growing in influence, received the ball from Hazard after a collision between Giakoumakis and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Moritz Jenz got a toe on the ball but it fell nicely for Modric a second time, swerving the ball past Joe Hart with an outstep that puts most players’ insteps to shame.

And here is the thing about Carlo Ancelotti’s side: even when you think you have them tamed, pinned back, under control, they can rear at you like a spitting cobra. All Postecoglou could do was throw on some fresh blood, but as Aaron Mooy and Kyogo Furuhashi took the stage, Ancelotti simply threw on Eduardo Camavinga, Marco Asensio and Rodrygo in a display of imperial strength.

Hazard tapped in a valedictory third after an elementary passing move and briefly the stands that had earlier been quivering with noise were silenced. But there was enough vigor and promise on display here to suggest that Celtic will not be quiet for long.