Real Madrid got back to winning ways in LaLiga and moved top of the table with a tight 1-0 home win against Espanyol secured thanks to Marco Asensio's first-half goal.
Madrid dropped their first points under Julen Lopetegui last time out at Athletic Bilbao but despite resting Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Toni Kroos they collected a vital victory on Saturday.
Former Espanyol star Asensio struck from Luka Modric's pass shortly before half-time, the goal surviving a review for offside, and Lopetegui opted to rest Karim Benzema for the final 30 minutes.
Mariano Diaz was sent on to make his second league debut for the club, the striker having rejoined from Lyon, but Espanyol almost levelled when a cute Borja Iglesias chip rebounded off the crossbar.
Pablo Piatti slotted a presentable chance wide in the 14th minute as Espanyol made a confident start, with a mishit Isco shot the only time Madrid threatened in the opening half an hour.
Hernan Perez wasted a great chance on the break, firing straight at Thibaut Courtois, who was recalled after Keylor Navas was preferred for Madrid's Champions League defeat of Roma.
And although a lengthy VAR review for offside was needed, Madrid led in the 41st minute when Modric threaded a pass through to Asensio, who drilled a neat finish into the bottom-right.
Diego Lopez tipped a Modric shot around the post shortly after the restart as Madrid sought to make the points safe, then Isco had the former Los Blancos goalkeeper scrambling with a strike that curled wide.
But Espanyol almost snatched an equaliser in the 65th minute, Iglesias capitalising on a rare Sergio Ramos error but seeing his floated effort over Courtois come back off the woodwork.
Strength in depth shows
Speaking to the media before this game, Lopetegui indicated he was considering squad rotation and he gave opportunities to players including Dani Ceballos and Alvaro Odriozola, who made his debut filling in for injured right-back Dani Carvajal. Despite the scare of Iglesias hitting the crossbar, it was a decision that paid off for the former Spain boss.
Asensio an able Bale deputy
Bale has had a brilliant start to the season so the decision to rest him was always going to be a big call for Lopetegui. But being able to call upon Asensio, one of Europe's best young players, lessened the risk. And the 22-year-old, who spent the 2015-16 season on loan at Espanyol, showed his old club what they are missing with an unerring finish to win the points for Madrid, who could be leapfrogged by rivals Barcelona on Sunday.
LaLiga still getting used to VAR
It is early days for VAR in LaLiga and the fact it took a couple of minutes to give Asensio's perfectly legal goal showed there are teething problems. Referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz seemed adamant Asensio was offside and almost reluctantly signalled for the goal after the VAR team had been shown a number of replays. Only one was needed to show Asensio was clearly onside.
Key Opta Facts
1 - Marco Asensio has scored his first La Liga goal since February 2018 against Betis (two goals) and his first at Santiago Bernabeu in the competition since November 2017 vs Las Palmas. Necessary. pic.twitter.com/xSIcGuav86— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 22, 2018
- Real Madrid have lost only one of their 22 last meetings against Espanyol in La Liga (W18 D3), with this defeat coming in February 2018 (1-0 in Cornella).
- Benzema has failed to score in his last three games for Real Madrid in all competitions, failing to register a single shot on target in all three.
- Espanyol have lost in each of their last six visits to Santiago Bernabeu, without scoring a goal in any of the last five encounters. It is their worst such run without a goal in meetings against Real Madrid away from home in the history of the competition.
- Real Madrid have won 101 La Liga games against Espanyol, more than any team against a single opponent in the history of the competition.
- Thibaut Courtois has kept a clean sheet in La Liga for the first time with Real Madrid. His last clean sheet in the competition was in April 2014 vs Valencia.
A midweek round of LaLiga fixtures sees Madrid facing a tricky trip to Sevilla on Wednesday, with Espanyol hosting Eibar 24 hours earlier.
12 de diciembre 2018
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