Real Madrid edge past Espanyol for vital La Liga win

Real Madrid maintained their La Liga title pressure on rivals Barcelona with a battling 2-0 win at home to Espanyol.

Zinedine Zidane's side were far from their best against the relegation threatened Catalan side, but a goal in either half from Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema secured a crucial win at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

The hosts struggled to get going in the opening stages, with visiting keeper Diego Lopez making routine stops from Benzema and the returning Vinicius Junior in the first half an hour.

However, they found a breakthrough, just when it was needed, six minutes before the break.

Toni Kroos' corner was recycled back into the box by Benzema, and the Frenchman's low ball across the box was tucked home at the far post by Varane.

Los Blancos looked to go up a gear after the break, with Lopez called into action to save from Benzema again, as well as skipper Sergio Ramos.

Espanyol did give their hosts a score with twenty minutes to go, as Chinese international Wu Lei found himself in space just inside the box, but his drive came back off the post.

But with the pressure beginning to build amongst the home fans, Benzema put the seal on the game on 79 minutes, as he tucked home Federico Valverde's pass from 15 yards.

However the game ended on a negative note for Zidane, with defender Ferland Mendy receiving a second yellow card, ruling him out of next weekend's clash at Valencia – and with Marcelo injured, Zidane will be short of options at left back.