It was perfect timing for Real Madrid in its Spanish league opener on Sunday.
As David Alaba prepared to come into the match by the sideline, Luka Modric was being brought down by a defender just outside the penalty area.
The 75th-minute foul happened just in time for Alaba to come off the bench and score on his first touch to help Real Madrid rally to a 2-1 victory over promoted Almería.
The defender said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti told him exactly what to do.
“Before I get into the game, he told me: ‘Take this free kick, you are going to score,’” Alaba said. “And then, after the goal, he said, ‘Look, I told you.’”
After talking to the coach, Alaba sprinted from the bench and went straight to the free kick spot, then curled a well-struck shot that went over the wall and hit the post before going in.
“He is very good taking free kicks,” Ancelotti said. “The substitution came at the time of the foul and he is very good from that position. It was a very good shot.”
Almería, the Saudi-owned club promoted after seven consecutive seasons in the second division, had opened the scoring six minutes into the match with Largie Ramazani. The young Belgian forward broke through behind the Madrid defenders before finding the net past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Madrid had been pressing since conceding and equalized with Lucas Vázquez from close range after a 61st-minute assist by Karim Benzema, who is coming off his best season ever but struggled to find the target on Sunday. Vázquez had already had a goal disallowed for offside just before halftime.
Madrid on Wednesday began its season by winning the UEFA Super Cup against Eintracht Frankfurt, when Alaba also scored.
Madrid won last season’s Champions League and comfortably clinched the Spanish league title by finishing 13 points ahead of second-place Barcelona.
New signings Antonio Rüdiger and Aurélien Tchouaméni made their debuts with Madrid as starters, with Luka Modric, Casemiro and Eden Hazard entering the match in the second half.
Ancelotti could not count on defender Dani Carvajal and forward Rodrygo because of injuries.
Gennaro Gattuso debuted as Valencia coach with a 1-0 win against promoted Girona in a match in which his team played a man down during most of the second half.
Carlos Soler converted a penalty kick in first-half stoppage time, then the hosts held on despite Eray Comert’s sending off with a straight red card shortly after halftime at Mestalla Stadium.
Gattuso took over from José Bordalás, who was fired despite leading Valencia to the Copa del Rey final in his single season in charge. Valencia finished ninth in the league last season and club owner Peter Lim, a Singaporean businessman, remains under attack by fans over his policies. The club removed president Anil Murthy from his post in May following the leak of private conversations that made the club’s leadership look bad.
Girona, back in the first division after a three-year absence, struggled despite the man advantage and finished with only one attempt on target.
Kubo leads Sociedad
Takefusa Kubo made the most of his debut with Real Sociedad, scoring the team's 1-0 win at Cádiz.
The 21-year-old Japanese attacking midfielder is playing yet another season on loan from Real Madrid after stints with Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe.
Kubo picked up a nice pass by Mikel Merino behind the Cádiz defender and scored with a shot from inside the area in the 24th minute.
Sociedad, which finished sixth in the league last season, was in control during most of the match at the Nuevo Mirandilla Stadium. It only failed to get a bigger win because of a solid performance by Cádiz goalkeeper Jeremías Ledesma.
Cádiz barely avoided demotion last season, finishing just above the relegation zone.
Sociedad next Sunday hosts Barcelona, which opened with a 0-0 draw at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Cádiz visits Osasuna next Saturday.