Real Madrid shrugged off the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to record a club record 16th consecutive league win 2-0 at RCD Espanyol and stay top of La Liga on Sunday.
James Rodriguez made the most of a rare start in the side to open the scoring in first-half stoppage-time, before Karim Benzema sealed all three points 20 minutes from time.
The victory restored Real’s three-point lead over Barcelona and UD Las Palmas, and equaled Barca’s La Liga record of 16 straight wins under Pep Guardiola in 2010-2011.
“I am happy not just with the goals of James and Karim, but with their performance in general,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “They have talent that can make the difference, but the most important thing is that they work as hard as they did together.”
Without the ill Ronaldo and injured Bale, Madrid took their time to get going and captain Sergio Ramos was lucky to escape an early sending-off when he handled Hernan Perez’s shot after picking up a booking inside two minutes.
Espanyol have now lost their past nine meetings with Real, but had a great chance to go in front when poor defending from Pepe gifted the ball to Leo Baptistao inside the penalty area, only for the Brazilian to fire straight at Kiko Casilla.
Rodriguez was making his first league start in 133 days after shining in Madrid’s miraculous late come-from-behind win against Portugal’s Sporting in the UEFA Champions League last week and the Colombian made his case for a more regular spot in Zidane’s midfield when he nutmegged Pape Diop just before the break and planted a fine left-footed effort into the bottom corner.
“It has always been my dream to play here,” Rodriguez told BeIN Sports on his reasoning for not forcing through a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu during the summer. “I am just one more player, but if I can score and create goals then all the better.”
Once in front Zidane’s men controlled the game in the second half.
Former Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez made a stunning save to prevent Benzema’s volley on the turn extending the visitors lead and then also turned away a decent effort from outside the penalty area by the Frenchman.
However, Benzema was not to be denied a third time when he swept home Lucas Vazquez’s low cross at the near post.
Elsewhere, Valencia sank to the bottom of the table as the only side without a point this season as they lost 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao, while RC Celta de Vigo moved above them and off the bottom with a 0-0 draw at CA Osasuna.
At the other end of the table, Villarreal moved up to sixth place with their third win in a week as Nicola Sansone’s first-half brace earned a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad.
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