Gareth Bale scored a comeback goal as Real Madrid continued to set the pace in La Liga with a 2-0 victory over Espanyol on Saturday.
Madrid had to be patient against Espanyol, but they finally broke the deadlock through Alvaro Morata’s powerful header to lead at half-time, before Bale came off the bench to put the game to bed.
Bale appeared in a matchday squad for the first time in 88 days after he recovered from an ankle injury, although the Welshman wasn’t risked from the outset.
Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema, however, were missing, while Marcelo and Casemiro dropped to the bench. Their places were taken by Kiko Casilla, Pepe, Mateo Kovacic, Alvaro Morata, Nacho Fernandez and Isco.
Espanyol, meanwhile, hoped to end a 21-year wait for a win at the Santiago Bernabeu. Their Coach Quique Sanchez Flores played at right-back for Los Blancos the last time the Catalans tasted victory in the capital.
Los Periquitos had the game’s first chance as David Lopez met an early corner, but his header bounced over the bar of his former teammate Casilla.
At the other end, Pepe was totally unmarked when a corner came in, but he flashed his header wide of Espanyol’s goal, occupied by ex-madridista Diego Lopez.
Moments after Morata was denied the opening goal by the smallest of fractions, the striker having been about to pounce on Ronaldo’s drilled cross at the far post, the No 7 was half-a-yard offside when he finished off another low delivery.
However, the former did score from Isco’s pinpoint, right-wing ball, making him the Madrid player with the best minutes-to-goals ratio in La Liga.
Furthermore, Los Merengues went a 42nd consecutive match finding the back of their opponents’ net – a new club record.
Morata could’ve grabbed a second goal when he was picked out by Nacho Fernandez, taking a touch to get past his marker in the penalty area, but the former Juventus man could only stab his finish wide.
Mateo Kovacic managed to last an hour with a gashed eye, courtesy of Pape Diop’s gory clash of heads with the Croat, before fellow substitute Hernan Perez unleashed a half-volley that Casilla needed push away at his near post.
Ronaldo then met a cross in Espanyol’s penalty area, but despite being unmarked, the Portuguese headed over.
It was testament to Madrid that they were only 1-0 up but still looked light years away from an Espanyol equaliser. Lucas shot first time, coming inside from the right, but his effort ended up in Diego Lopez’s near-post side-netting.
Nonetheless, on came Bale for his long-awaited comeback, and it was worth the wait as the forward broke clear down the left, drove into the box and angled a finish past Diego Lopez.
Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol
Morata 33, Bale 83
Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Nacho (Marcelo 81); Kovacic (Casemiro 61), Kroos, Isco; Lucas, Morata (Bale 71), Ronaldo
Espanyol: Diego Lopez; D Reyes, David Lopez, O Duarte, Aaron; Fuego, Diop; J A Reyes (Perez 46), Jurado (Vazquez 82), Piatti; Gerard
Referee: Undiano Mallenco