A goal in each half from Alvaro Morata and a returning Gareth Bale was enough to ensure that Los Blancos extended their lead over Barcelona at the summit of the La Liga.
It was easy three points for Real Madrid at home as they swatted aside Quique Sanchez Flores’ Espanyol to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table, whilst also smashed a club record after Alvaro Morata opened the scoring in the 11th minute.
Real Madrid have now scored in 42nd consecutive games, breaking a previous club record of 41 set in 1952, 1989 and 2012. Needless to say, Real will certainly have the all time record by a La Liga side of 44 matches in their sights, which was set by Barcelona in 1942 and repeated in 1944.
Gareth Bale’s return to the limelight was undoubtedly the biggest talking point from Real’s victory, but here are some other talking points and things we learnt as the European Champions walked to a comfortable victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Perfect Return
Before being sent onto the pitch in the 71st minute as a substitute for Alvaro Morata, 88 days had passed since the Welshman last donned the white kit of Real Madrid and the world’s second most expensive player was given a huge welcome ovation by those present at the Bernabeu.
In the 83rd minute, Bale took the opportunity to remind his manager and the Real Madrid fans what they were missing. Isco played a brilliant pass down the left flank and the Welshman sprinted 45 yards, before calmly slotting the ball past Lopez into the bottom right corner.
It was his 8th goal of the season in his 17th appearance. The goal would do wonders for his confidence and while it will take a few more games for the Welshman to get back to 100%, Zidane will be elated to have one of his best players back and firing.
Minimal Effort, Minimal Resistance
In all fairness, Real Madrid weren’t at their deadly best against the visiting Periquitos. Despite having rested key players for this tie, they did not play to their full potential, but they never looked to be in any danger of losing and still managed to make their victory look comfortable.
Real Madrid completely dominated and Quique Sanchez Flores’ men played their part in it, or rather didn’t. Los Blancos enjoyed 68% possession, had 12 shots whilst Espanyol managed only 3. Madrid managed 3 on target and scored 2 of them while the visitors only managed 1 on target.
The hosts also won an amazing 12 corners to Espanyol’s 2. The only major statistic where Espanyol came out on top was number of fouls committed. Real committed 12 fouls whilst the visitors committed 13 and had four players booked in the process.
For all the quality within their ranks, Real should have won this game with a resounding scoreline. Whilst the do have a comfortable lead at the top of La Liga over Barcelona and also have 2 games in hand, Zidane will be all too wary of the dangers of complacency and will expect much more from his side going forward.
Alvaro Morata’s Reminder
The Spaniard’s big return to the Spanish top flight hasn’t quite gone according to plan. The 24-year-old has found him playing second fiddle to Karim Benzema, who remains Zinedine Zidane’s first choice striker this season despite having racked up a 13 goals and 6 assists in 29 appearances.
He has started only 7 of his 15 La Liga appearances and made only 1 start in the Champions League. Morata has made the same number of appearances as Benzema this term but far fewer starts, but he has still managed to find the net 11 times this season and has also registered 4 assists.
Morata is by no means as good as Benzema on his best day and with Zidane favouring his compatriot over the former Juventus striker, the Spanish international has constantly been linked with a move abroad this summer.
With Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly destined to transition from a winger to a center-forward and a number of European strikers being linked with a move to the Bernabeu, Benzema or Morata may be forced to leave the club in the summer if they wish to start week in and week out.
Isco Makes His Case
The Andalusian has been Zidane’s go-to man in instances of injuries to Casemiro or Modric this season and the 24-year-old has almost always justified his faith in him. On being handed a rare start against Espanyol, the formed Real Sociedad man set up both of his side’s goals in each half.
The first come came via a cross of pin-point accuracy to set up Alvaro Morata in the 11th minute and the next one a perfectly weighted through ball for Gareth Bale in the 81st. Apart from these, he constantly kept harassing the Espanyol defence and never allowed them a moment’s rest.
The Spanish international has found the minutes he’s like to play hard to come by this season, as he has had to compete with Modric, Kovacic and James for a place in the starting XI and this performance will only help further his cause with a confused Zidane, who is spoilt for choice.
Strength In Depth
First team regulars such as Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Keylor Navas were all left out of the squad for this tie. The rotation was necessary to allow some players to rest and also provide game time to others and those who were given rare starts certainly did not disappoint.
Zidane’s men will now have 5 games to play in days, which include tricky away trips to Villarreal and Eibar and also their Champions League Round Of 16 second leg at the Stadio San Paolo against Napoli. With games, coming thick and fast, Zidane will need all his players firing on all cylinders.
Kovacic, Pepe, Vazquez had good outings against Espanyol and such performances give Zidane a welcome headache regarding selection. But more importantly, it also serves as assurance that he has top quality backup he can rely upon, as they approach the business end of the season.