Just nine days later, Real Madrid was facing Espanyol again at Cornellá-El Prat, this time in the quarter finals of Copa del Rey. Carlo Ancelotti basically repeated the same line up that crushed Real Betis last Sunday, with Asier Illarramendi replacing Xabi Alonso and Álvaro Arbeloa in Carvajal's place.
Real Madrid controlled the ball for the first minutes of the game, with an Espanyol team that was trying to force a mistake around midfield to set up the counter attack. Luka Modric, Illarramendi and Ángel Di María had it under control, but still needed to find their teammates some spaces to attack.
As usual, controlling the ball means very little if you can't do a thing with it. Espanyol almost scored on a corner kick, but fortunately for Ancelotti's men, Iker Casillas's rebound wasn't found by any Espanyol player. Two minutes later, at the 17th minute, Casillas faced danger again. Pizzi was in a comfortable position around the penalty spot but his shot went above Real Madrid's goal.
Espanyol was using nine of its players to defend. Every time an orange player touched the ball, he was immediately covered by two Espanyol players. Still, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to take a shot outside the box that unfortunately hit the post. That was an indicative that a goal might come sooner rather than later.
In the 25th minute,Karim Benzema delivered. Arbeloa's cross was first deflected by Gareth Bale (insane jump included) and then headed again by Benzema to make it 0-1. As good as the goal was, it came during Espanyol's best moment of the first half.
Real Madrid once again controlled the ball and Illarramendi actually created some danger with it. Oddly, it was against his own team, as one of his passes to Casillas almost became an own goal. It wasn't very close, as Real Madrid's GK preferred to give Espanyol the corner kick than try to clear Illarra's poor pass.
Both Cristiano and Benzema were taking a lot of shots against Casilla. Benzema was all over the place, passing, assisting, shooting. Bale, who was having a very discrete first half, almost scored on a free kick in the 43'. That's the problem with the three-headed monster called The BBC. Any of them can create danger from any spot at any moment.
That was it for the first half. It wasn't spectacular, but a one-goal lead wasn't bad either. Brilliant 45 minutes by Modric and Benzema.
Bale had a good chance at the beginning of the first half. Casilla's deflection on a cross by Ronaldo ended up hitting Bale and the ball almost went in.
Espanyol started the second half with a lot of intensity. They were attacking Real Madrid's left side and because of Marcelo's struggles, Di María started playing a key role on defence. Sergio García almost tied the game in the 54th minute with a shot from outside the box on a play that started from Marcelo's side.
Real Madrid was still able to create some chances. After a nice counter attack, Ronaldo had a chance to score on a cross by Di María but his header couldn't find the goal. In the 62', Arbeloa had two chances in front of Casilla but the GK denied him both times.
Di María was now the busiest player on the pitch. He was defending, attacking and recovering. He recovered a ball around midfield and gave Benzema a great chance to make it 0-2 but Casilla once again made the save. After an exhausting second half, Di María was replaced by Alonso in the 72nd minute.
While Espanyol improved in the second half, so did Real Madrid and was a lot closer to scoring their second than Espanyol was to tying the game.
Ancelotti then replaced Benzema with Isco with 15 minutes to go. Clearly, the Italian was now looking to secure the lead while still having Bale, Ronaldo and Isco to try to create some danger on a counter attack. Still, the end of the game wasn't easy for Real Madrid
Still, after a lost ball in midfield, Sergio García assisted Cordoba, leaving him completely alone in front of Casillas but the Spanish GK made the save. Just a few minutes later (and after a missed chance by Marcelo), a series of dangerous rebounds inside Real Madrid's box gave Moreno a chance to tie it but a wall of defenders deflected the shot.
Espanyol asked for a handball by Illarramendi inside the box at the end of the game but the ref rightfully didn't call the PK, which meant the game was going to end 0-1.
It wasn't pretty and the team suffered a lot more than they should've at the end, but the result is really good for Real Madrid. After the Liga match played nine days ago, everybody knew this was going to be a tough match and Espanyol didn't disappoint.
Great game by Modric, Benzema and Di María. Pepe and Arbeloa deserve some credit too.
Real Madrid should've scored more goals. At least a couple more. Casilla was an absolute beast tonight and should be considered the man of the match. Sadly for him, the media will only talk about Iker's save on Córdoba.
Once Espanyol decided to attack, Real Madrid's defence struggled, especially Marcelo. Go figure. That idea of waiting until you're down to attack is a gift to Ancelotti's men. Still, that's the sixth straight game with a clean sheet.
Taking a lead to Santiago Bernabéu is a good result but this thing is far from over. Expect Aguirre's men to put up a good fight in the second leg.