Casemiro steals the show as Madrid keep winning spree; Espanyol 0 - 1 Madrid
Madrid have recorded five wins in five matches since returning to the pitch
A touch of magic from Karim Benzema on a late first-half strike from Casemiro earned Real Madrid a narrow 1-0 win at Espanyol on Sunday night at the RCDE Stadium.
Despite going against the cellar-dwellers, Los Blancos had their hands full but their quality made the difference in the end, namely Benzema, who played an exquisite backheel to set up the lone goal from Casemiro.
The result now pushes Real Madrid two points ahead of Barcelona in the LaLiga Santander table, with the head-to-head tiebreaker also favoring the club from the capital city.
There were some tweaks to Zinedine Zidane's starting XI, with Casemiro back in a defensive midfield role, while Isco was charged with playmaking duties in midfield to help forwards Benzema and Eden Hazard.
Meanwhile, in defense, Marcelo was slotted in at left-back ahead of the suspended Ferland Mendy.
By the looks of the first 10 minutes, one would have never known that Espanyol were sitting bottom of the table and had just changed coaches a day previously.
The hosts were very bright, taking the game to Real Madrid, but soon enough Zidane's men gained a foothold and almost scored when Casemiro's firecracker was headed over the crossbar by Sergio Ramos.
That was followed by a missed Casemiro header off a flicked header from Raphael Varane and a chance for Espanyol's Wu Lei, who fired over Thibaut Courtois.
The poking and prodding from Los Blancos continued and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez had to stretch his hand high to prevent a curling shot from Benzema slamming into net.
Hazard was next to send an effort goalward after a mad scramble in the box, but the bouncing shot from the Belgian was tipped to safety by Lopez.
Finally, the Real Madrid goal came just minutes before half time thanks to some brilliant invention from Benzema, who played a backheel that went through the legs of Espanyol defender Bernardo and into the path of Casemiro's left foot for a 1-0 lead.
Zidane would wait until the hour mark before making his first change, introducing Vinicius and Rodrygo into the fray for Isco and Hazard in hopes of a spark and a second goal to seal things.
Real Madrid were dominating the second half with Espanyol barely getting a sniff of the opposing penalty area, but with a quarter of an hour left it was still just a one-goal affair.
While Espanyol were not mustering much in the way of chances, their belief was still intact as Real Madrid failed kill them off and the Pericos would have two final shouts in the final minutes.
The first was a freekick that sailed over two Espanyol heads right in front of the Real Madrid goal and the second a Jonathan Calleri shot that Marcelo almost put into his own net.
In the end, though, it was another three points for Real Madrid to make it a perfect five wins in five matches since returning to the pitch.