Karim Benzema delivered another moment of magic on Sunday as Real Madrid took a two-point lead over Barcelona at the highest of los angeles Liga by beating bottom club Espanyol.
Benzema’s volley against Valencia might be goal of the season and he might now have a claim to best assist too after his brilliant backheel teed up Casemiro to end for an important 1-0 win.
Madrid’s advantage within the table, coming after Barca’s draw away at Celta Vigo on Saturday, is their biggest since February and puts them accessible of their second league title in eight years.
“It’s a really important win,” said Benzema. “I can’t say we don’t check out Barcelona, in fact we do. But we’re focused on our own league. There aren’t many games left and each game now’s a final.”
Zinedine Zidane said Eden Hazard took a knock to his ankle.
“He took an enormous hit but it’s just a knock i feel ,” said Zidane.
By the time his side play reception to Getafe on Thursday they could even have the prospect to maneuver further clear, if in-form Atletico Madrid avoid defeat on Tuesday at Camp Nou.
Barcelona certainly have the harder run-in, with a resurgent Villarreal side to follow Atletico then local rivals Espanyol, who have shown they could yet finish strong after a determined performance under new coach Franciso Rufete.
Rufete, who was previously the club’s sporting director, is Espanyol’s fourth coach of the season after the sacking of Abelardo Fernandez on Saturday.
His task is now to form up a nine-point gap between his team in 20th and Celta in 17th. They were undone by a bit of instinctive brilliance from Benzema, who has been the catalyst for Madrid sealing five wins out of 5 since La Liga restarted on June 11.
Benzema’s backheel came on a day of sensational assists after Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla earlier found out Gerard Moreno with a fantastic , cushioned touch in their 2-0 convert Valencia.
“I need to give huge credit to Karim,” said Casemiro. “It was a fantastic assist. We’re wont to how good he’s , i do know the standard he possesses so i used to be expecting something. He heard me posing for it and he played it during a brilliant way.”
Madrid, though, were scruffy and ponderous at the RCDE Stadium, this perhaps their least impressive convert the last three weeks.
But solidity and steel ensured they came through unscathed and it had been no surprise that defensive midfielder Casemiro, arguably the team’s best player this term, was named man of the match.
Espanyol were faraway from outplayed and may need been ahead if that they had capitalised on a series of forays down Madrid’s left within the half .
With Marcelo repeatedly trapped field, Wu Lei was ready to sprint clear and his early pull-back was met by Sergi Darder at the rear post, just for his shot to be blocked by Dani Carvajal.
Madrid were sloppy but created chances. Sergio Ramos headed over Casemiro’s smashed effort across goal.
A scrap within the penalty area ended with Diego Lopez palming over a half-volley from the quiet Eden Hazard.
Espanyol were hanging on for half-time and that they were caught out by Benzema.
Ramos flicked on Marcelo’s crossfield pass and Benzema, moving faraway from goal, backheeled off the bounce through the legs of Bernardo Espinosa for the coming Casemiro to end .
Wu had another chance early within the last half but scuffed his shot and both teams seemed content to let the score lie until the latter stages, when Espanyol began to require more risks.
Their best chance came within the 87th minute when a free-kick evaded the whole Madrid defence but Leandro Cabrera was just short at the rear post. Marcelo almost deflected into his own net for the last action before the whistle blew.
Earlier, Villarreal continued their surge towards Champions League qualification with a victory over Valencia, inspired by Cazorla.
The 35-year-old found himself under a 60-yard punt from his goalkeeper before cushioning the ball out of the air perfectly for Gerard Moreno to volley in. Paco Alcacer also scored against his former club as Villarreal moved just three points behind fourth-placed Sevilla.