Pepe goal enough for Madrid

A thumping Pepe header gave Real Madrid victory over Espanyol and moved Carlo Ancelotti’s side three points behind the League leaders.

Looking to take advantage of the draw between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday, Madrid returned from Cornella-El Prat with a victory that was rarely in doubt.

Espanyol started on the front foot and retained the ball well but struggled to create a meaningful chance with the possession.

Madrid came into the game as the first-half wore on and had a number of presentable openings, with Angel Di Maria particularly wasteful on his first appearance for the club since the furore over his alleged crotch-grabbing gesture.

Cristiano Ronaldo also passed up a fine chance from inside the six-yard box, saw a long-rage effort blocked and had a free-kick blocked by Kike Casilla’s feet in an unorthodox display of goalkeeping.

Espanyol struggled to get out of their half as the interval approached but Di Maria’s decision to pass rather than shoot saw a good opening go begging.

Gareth Bale kept the move alive and his cross found Karim Benzema, but the striker’s header went wide.

The opening goal game 10 minutes into the second-half, Pepe converting Luka Modric’s right-wing free-kick.

Espanyol allowed the centre-back to rise unmarked and the Portugal international scored his third goal of the season.

Javier Aguirre made an attacking change in response, introducing Manuel Lanzerote and Simao for Gabriel Torje and Alex Fernandez, but Ronaldo did his best to exploit the new-found space.

Casilla had to be alert to tip a Ronaldo drive over the crossbar as Madrid pushed for a second goal, with Aguirre bringing on striker Pizzi in an attempt to level the scores.

Madrid looked to counter-attack as the hosts passed forward and splayed accurate long passes to turn defence into attack.

Ancelotti’s side could have wrapped up the points as first Benzema and then Ronaldo missed from close range, Casilla blocking from Benzema and Ronaldo firing wide.

Cordoba was the most dangerous player on show for Espanyol but a lack of a clear cut chance meant pulling back the game’s only goal proved beyond the Blanquiblaus.

Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid

Scorers: Pepe 55 (RM)

Espanyol: Casilla, Lopez, Colotto, Moreno, Fuentes, Sanchez, Rodriguez, Stuani (Pizzi 83), Alex (Lanzarote 64), Torje (Simao 64), Cordoba

Madrid: Lopez, Carvajal (Arbeloa 91), Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Modric, Alonso, Di Maria, Bale (Jese 76), Ronaldo, Benzema (Illarramendi 90)

Tags Angel Di Maria Casilla Cristiano Ronaldo Pepe