Real Madrid clinched a vital victory over Espanyol last night to move to within three points of La Liga pacesetters Barcelona and Atletico, but they made hard work of it at the Cornella El Prat stadium.
With Atleti and Barcelona playing out a goalless draw on Saturday it presented a real opportunity for Madrid to drag themselves back into the title race. Espanyol are either quite decent or very bad, there’s no in-betweens for Javier Aguirre’s side. Unfortunately for Madrid they met Espanyol on one of their better nights.
Espanyol were resolute at the back, goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was on top form and the team had developed a ‘none shall pass’ attitude. The fact that Espanyol managed just one shot on target all night tells a story – they had decided to play for a point and they almost grabbed it.
It was a match where Madrid’s star players were strangely quiet. Gareth Bale was making his first start in over a month but he was on the periphery of the game, barely having a touch before being hooked by Carlo Ancelotti after 76 minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a rare night to forget. He had put his boots on the wrong feet – slicing one shot horribly wide and then missing what amounted to an open goal. Ronaldo’s mind was on Zurich and the Ballon D’Or awards tonight rather than on the match in hand.
Madrid upped the pressure after the interval and the breakthrough eventually came from the unlikeliest of sources. Luca Modric swung over a fantastic free kick that was met by the head of Madrid’s Portuguese defended Pepe.The goal seemed to deflate Espanyol and more Madrid chances were created, only for them to be squandered by Ronaldo and Benzema.
The three points were won but Real Madrid know they must play much better than this if they are to have a real chance of snatching the title.
Elsewhere in La Liga, Rayo Vallecano won 1-0 at Getafe, Osasuna clinched a 2-1 away win over Real Betis and Levante clinched a 1-0 victory at home to Malaga.