Real Madrid closed the gap on league leaders Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid to just three points with a scrappy 1-0 win away at Espanyol.
Portuguese defender Pepe ensured Carlo Ancelotti’s men left Cornell-El Prat with all three points with a bullet of a header from a Luka Modric free kick shortly after the interval.
Having seen the top two play out a draw on Saturday evening, many expected Real to go out all guns blazing in search of the win that would extend their unbeaten run in La Liga to nine matches. But it was the home side who started brightly, and could well have taken the lead early on when Stuani and Torje forced Diego Lopez in making good saves.
Urged on my a passionate home support, Espanyol continued to forge out chance after chance and the Madrid defence was forced into rearguard action. One sensed though that Espanyol would have to score during their period of early dominance if they were to take something from the match. As the first half wore on, Madrid slowly grew into the game with Modric using his excellent passing to dictate the tempo.
Indeed as the break approached, Madrid had the better chances, with Karim Benzema heading wide and Cristiano Ronaldo, set to pick up the Ballon d’Or award tomorrow, going close.
Ten minutes after half time, Los Blancos took the lead. Luka Modric whipped in a free kick from the right hand side of the box to find Pepe who was unmarked. The towering defender sent his header goalwards and beyond the despairing keeper to silence the home crowd.
Despite a couple of substitutions by the home team to try and turn the tide, they couldn’t create any clear cut chances to trouble the nine-time European Cup winners. Ancelotti’s men looked happy to hold onto their lead and the game petered out somewhat, although Ronaldo will be disappointed not to get on the scoresheet after being presented a couple of golden chances.
In the end it stayed as it was, and Madrid return to the Spanish capital with the top two now clearly in their sights and La Liga set up nicely for the second half of the season.