Real Madrid set a club record of 16 successive La Liga victories with a 2-0 victory away to Espanyol on Sunday evening.
James Rodriguez was brought in to central midfield and delivered for Los Merengues when he scored the opener just before halftime. Karim Benzema doubled the lead with 20 minutes remaining to give Real four wins from four domestic matches.
Real struggled past Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League in midweek and with a tough schedule of games in the coming weeks, Zinedine Zidane rotated his side.
Despite playing an important part in the comeback midweek, Cristiano Ronaldo missed out due to a virus, and Gareth Bale was unable to recover from a hip injury sustained against Sporting. Marcos Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were given the nod from Zidane.
Raphael Varane also made way for Pepe, and the aforemention James replaced Toni Kroos in the starting eleven. The Colombian again showed his importance to the Real squad when he squeezed through two Espanyol challenges before firing a left foot strike low into the bottom right corner.
Leo Baptistao should have scored for Espanyol after Pepe’s error meant the Brazilian was through, but Kiko Casilla came to Pepe and Real Madrid’s rescue.
Casemiro sustained a calf injury when Pape Diop clattered the Brazilian as the Espanyol midfielder looked to pass the ball forward. After trying to continue, Casemiro was replaced by Toni Kroos.
Real took their time to settle into the game, and after Kroos’ introduction, seemed to come to life.
It seemed Benzema had opened the scoring after Marcelo whipped a fantastic cross from the left and the Madrid striker bulleted a header past former Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez. However, the Frenchman had wandered just offside.
The home side then nearly took the lead when David Lopez crossed a similar ball for Leo Baptistao, but the Espanyol forward could only nod wide.
Real began the second half well, but didn’t create any clear cut chances until Asensio nodded Lucas’ cross to Benzema, who flicked the ball up with his left foot before pirouetting and firing a volley goalwards, but was superbly denied by Lopez.
Benzema nearly doubled the lead with a curled effort from the edge of the box but Diego Lopez was again equal to the Frenchman’s effort.
Benzema kept knocking at the door, and was rewarded. Lucas played another great cross for Benzema. This time, the young winger slid the ball across the 6 yard box and Benzema dutifully applied the finish to double Real’s lead 20 minute from time.
Espanyol almost reduced the arrears soon after. Kroos uncharacteristically gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the pitch, which allowed substitute Felipe Caicedo to run at Sergio Ramos and Pepe. The Portuguese defender made a good block from the striker’s initial attempt, and Casilla then had to pull off a good save to deny Caicedo’s second effort.
In the end, Madrid had managed the take the sting out of Espanyol’s attack and return to the capital with three points, and a clean sheet. The busy schedule continues when they host Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night.