Real Madrid continued their resurgent run on Sunday night as they coasted to a 4-2 win over Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium.
The visitors took no time to get going, grabbing a foothold in the game in the fourth minute, as Karim Benzema calmly tapped in the ball into an empty net after former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez had parried the initial strike by Luka Modric.
Los Blancos continued to assert their authority before doubling their advantage at the quarter-hour mark as Sergio Ramos found the bottom right corner with a towering header from a Modric cross.
Ten minutes later, however, Espanyol found a glimmer of hope from the game after Leo Baptistao scored his first goal since September, with Thibaut Courtois having no answer for his thumping shot. But, those hopes were washed away at the stroke of half-time as Benzema added his second of the match after some fine link-up with Vinicius Jr.
Real Madrid dominated the proceedings in the second half as well, although the chances did not flow as rapidly as they did in the first 45 minutes. But, Real Madrid ended up scoring their fourth goal of the game midway through the period, with Gareth Bale making it a happy return to action.
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The Merengues though, were reduced to 10 men shortly after, with Raphael Varane being sent off. Espanyol made good use of their numerical advantage, as Roberto Rosales pulled a goal back in the 81st minute with a fantastic effort, but it was too little too late.
Real Madrid have now won each of their last three league games, but continue to trail Barcelona by 10 points, with the defending champions beating Girona 2-0 earlier in the day. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Santiago Solari’s men.
Thibaut Courtois: 6/10
A frustrating evening for Courtois, who had no fault in either goal that Real Madrid conceded on the night. Apart from the two moments, the Belgian shot stopper barely had anything else to do, and snuffed out the danger by quickly coming off his line. Distribution remains an issue, but he is constantly improving in that regard.
Dani Carvajal: 7/10
As solid as they come from the reliable Carvajal. The Spaniard was constantly on the hunt in the final third, linking up well with Benzema. One such instance would have resulted in a goal for the full-back, if not for a fantastic save by Diego Lopez. Colossal as ever defensively, and a goal-line clearance, when Real Madrid were down to 10 men, stood out.
Raphael Varane: 5/10
A night to forget for Varane. The Frenchman was the guilty party when Leo Baptistao opened the scoring for Espanyol, but the worst was yet to come. The World Cup winner was shown a straight red for the first time in his club career for catching Pablo Piatti on a run through to goal.
Sergio Ramos: 7/10
For once, Ramos was not the second best of the two centre-backs. Rarely troubled at the back during his 45 minutes on the pitch, the Real Madrid captain had his hand in the win after powering his towering header past Diego Lopez. Taken off at half-time due to a knock sustained in a clash with Borja Iglesias, Solari would hope it is nothing serious.
Sergio Reguilon: 7/10
Another game that saw Reguilon start ahead of Marcelo. And, the young full-back continued to grow in stature on Sunday, in what was another convincing performance. The key to his retention in the side is undoubtedly his defensive astuteness, while he is improving all the time in his output in the final third. A truly promising prospect.
Luka Modric: 9/10
After back-to-back game changing performances in the last week, the expectations from Modric have invariably increased again. And, the Croat delivered with yet another dominant showing, playing a key role in his side’s comfortable win.
The Ballon d’Or winner was the catalyst for the first goal, with his brilliant driving run leaving Benzema with very little to do to score. The contribution to the second goal was even more straightforward, as his inviting cross was finished off by Ramos. Modric could have scored one himself too, but that still is no blemish on a truly commanding performance.
Casemiro is another player who has been on a roll lately, and he continued his good run on Sunday. The Brazilian was diligent in his defensive duties, rarely letting his marker escape his sight. An odd error was the only drawback of another strong outing, which ended with him slotting in as a centre-back. Needs to keep this up if he is to keep the fit-again Marcos Llorente at bay.
Toni Kroos: 8/10
Back into the starting lineup after a short injury layoff, Kroos was as classy as ever, pulling the strings ever so effortlessly alongside Modric. Passing accuracy was typically high at 96% and the German also made three key passes, one of which eventually ended with the third goal. A timely return.
Lucas Vazquez: 6.5/10
Lucas Vazquez has been a player on the rise lately, and while he showed a lot of desire on Sunday, his end product seemed to be lacking quite a bit. The Spaniard typically worked hard on and off the ball, but needs to be more involved in the attacking moves, especially if he has to keep Gareth Bale out of the side.
Karim Benzema: 10/10
Arguably Real Madrid’s Player of the Season so far, Benzema solidified his claim for that honour at the end of the season with a match winning performance. The two goals saw him extend his lead as far as the tally in Los Blancos‘ first-team squad is concerned.
The first saw him be at the right place at the right time to score one of the easiest goals of his career. But, the Frenchman produced a finish right out the top drawer for his second, curling home a first-time finish into the bottom right corner. Could have had an assist as well, if not for Diego Lopez, Benzema had five key passes on the night.
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Scoring, assisting, aggressive pressing, accurate passing (54 of 58 completed). There is nothing that Karim Benzema can not do at the moment and Solari will hope for this form to continue.
Vinicius Junior: 6/10
Another in-form player for Real Madrid lately, it was an oddly quiet outing for Vinicius. With just 39 touches, the Brazilian was scarcely involved and his search for his first La Liga goal continued. Nonetheless, he was involved in the lead-up to Benzema’s second, which still counts for something.
Brought on to replace Ramos at half-time, Nacho was largely solid, taking charge of organising the backline. But, he struggled after Varane’s dismissal, with Espanyol running the Real Madrid defenders ragged late on.
Gareth Bale: 8/10
Back after his latest injury problem, Bale threw his name into the hat for a starting berth in a stacked attacking unit with an impressive goal, just moments after being introduced. Will hope to return to his best now, slowly but surely.
Thrown into the game due to Varane’s sending off, Marcelo brought about a shuffle in personnel. Struggled on his side and was one of those who were culpable for Espanyol’s second goal.