It wasn't pretty. But still, Real Madrid found a way to cut Barcelona and Atlético's lead to three points after a header by Pepe.
A few months ago, the team's offensive line kept the engines going while Pepe and Ramos were struggling. And now, since late December, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema aren't playing that great. Pepe and Ramos, on the other hand, are certainly improving and collected Real Madrid's second clean sheet in a row. Diego López didn't have much work to do as both central defenders were brilliant against John Córdoba.
The midfield wasn't as strong, however. Xabi Alonso is still trying to find the rhythm after his perforated eardrum. And Modric tried to sustain the line by working hard and dictating the tempo of the game. The Croatian playmaker was booked on the 13th minute and still found the way to battle against Espanyol's midfielders. Modric is being one of Real Madrid's best players throughout the season and he definitely was one of them today.
Ancelotti started Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in what appeared to be a very offensive lineup. Di María played alongside Xabi Alonso for the first ten minutes, but Real Madrid's coach soon changed his mind and placed Modric there. Espanyol were dominating the game, but all they were just taking corner-kicks.
Real Madrid's best first-half chance came after a brilliant touch and dribble by Karim Benzema. Real's number 9 then crossed the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, but the soon-to-be Ballon D'Or just didn't have it tonight. For the second match in a row, it just wasn't meant to be. He also missed two big chances that could've increased the lead during the second half.
That said lead came on the 55th minute after a good header by Pepe off a set piece taken by Luka Modric. Again, it would've been better to see Real scoring off a combining play by the strikers, but the fans will need to be happy enough with this goal and the three points.
After that goal, Espanyol never stood a chance of coming back into the game. Again, Diego López didn't have to work at all, while Espanyol's keeper Kiko Casilla was just great against Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Unluckily enough for Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid, Gareth Bale did have another invisible game, and some might question his ability to adapt to the right wing. It will be interesting to see whether his struggles have something to do with his recent thigh injury or not.
A win is a win, but some things need to be addressed if this club is to contend for any title this season. As long as Real Madrid keep winning, the fans should not press the panic button just yet.
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