Real Madrid moved within three points of the La Liga summit with a narrow 1-0 victory at Espanyol on Sunday.
Pepe headed in the only goal in the 55th minute following a scoreless first half. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a number of chances for the visitors, who weren't at their best. But it didn't cost Real Madrid, who moved onto 47 points, three behind leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Espanyol remained 11th with 22 points.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti made four changes to his starting XI from the win over Osasuna on Thursday in the Copa del Rey. Diego Lopez returned to goal in place of Iker Casillas, while Dani Carvajal replaced Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back. In midfield, Xabi Alonso came in for Asier Illarramendi, and in the attack, Angel Di Maria replaced Jese Rodriguez.
Espanyol started brightly, with Gabriel Torje playing in two dangerous corners in quick succession in the 11th minute. Real cleared both, the first by Sergio Ramos and the second by Marcelo. The hosts won another corner three minutes later, and Christian Stuani rose above Xabi Alonso to win a header. But Stuani was unable to direct his weak effort on target.
Espanyol had a penalty claim in the 18th minute when Pepe felled Jhon Cordoba along the edge of Real's box. Two minutes later, Cordoba shot wide of the near post after working himself free in the box.
Real created chances as well, Karim Benzema setting up Ronaldo in the 19th minute only for Ronaldo to mis-hit his shot. One minute later, Di Maria forced Kiko Casilla into a save with a shot from distance.
Ronaldo came closer yet in the 32nd minute, exchanging passes with Di Maria before stinging Casilla's hands with a swerving, dipping shot from long distance. The Portuguese superstar tested Casilla again with an on-target free kick five minutes later.
The visitors created yet more danger with a blistering counter in the 42nd minute. Luka Modric dribbled to the edge of Espanyol's box and laid off for Di Maria on the left, but Di Maria's cross was behind Bezema and Ronaldo.
Gareth Bale then raced onto the loose ball on the right and crossed back into the middle, but Benzema's header went wide of the far post.
After the break, Lopez made his first save in the 54th minute, comfortably collecting Stuani's low shot from outside the box. A minute later, Real went ahead.
Modric curled in a set piece from the right, finding Pepe unmarked on the left side of the box. From there, Pepe directed a free header from eight yards into the net under Casilla's dive.
Ronaldo had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 66th minute after collecting Di Maria's long, angled pass on the right. But after dribbling into the box, Ronaldo dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Sergio Ramos had a free header in Espanyol's box, but an outstretched Victor Sanchez blocked his effort.
Ronaldo carved out another chance in the 82nd minute, cutting inside from the left to beat two defenders before shooting from the edge of the box. But Casilla saved well with an outstretched hand to keep the score 1-0.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo continued to misfire in front of goal. In the 86th minute, he headed over the bar from Modric's free kick on the right. Finally, in the 89th minute, he fired a rebound wide of the target with Casilla scrambling to cover his goal.
The last miss suggested it simply wasn't Ronaldo's night, but it didn't matter in the end as Real Madrid edged out a narrow victory.
|Real Madrid Player Ratings vs. Espanyol|
|Angel Di Maria||6||6|
Espanyol host Alcorcon on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie. Alcorcon won the first leg 1-0. On Saturday, Espanyol host Celta Vigo in the league.
Real Madrid play at Osasuna on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie. Real won the first leg 2-0. Ancelotti's side then play at Real Betis in the league on Saturday.