A brilliant back-heeled travel by Karim Benzema helped Real Madrid take a step toward reclaiming the Spanish league title with a 1-0 win at Espanyol.
With Espanyol close to make it to halftime with a clean sheet, Benzema cleverly unlocked the hosts’ defense on Sunday. He used a no-look pass together with his heel to poke the ball through the legs of defender Bernardo Espinosa and meet Casemiro’s enter the guts of the box.
Casemiro’s resulting goal and a few flawless defending were all Madrid needed to win and move before Barcelona by two points at the highest of the table.
“I see things, that’s what football is to me,” Benzema said about the goal.
“The assist is sweet , but Casemiro puts it in and gave us the three points. (This win) is extremely important. I won’t say that we do not concentrate to Barca, in fact we do, but we are focused on our matches and every game left may be a final for us.”
Zinedine Zidane’s team took advantage of Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Saturday by securing a fifth straight win since the league resumed following a three-month stoppage as Spain contained its COVID-19 outbreak.
The title rivals have six games left. Madrid holds the tiebreaker on head-to-head leads to the event they finish level on points. The run-in seems tougher for defending champion Barcelona, which faces third-place Atl tico Madrid on Tuesday at Camp Nou.
Last-place Espanyol appears headed for the second division after falling 10 points from safety.
Sunday’s matches continued to be closed to fans thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, like all games in Spain since the competition resumed fortnight ago.
An accelerated schedule has games every three days so as to end the season by July 19.
Espanyol persisted within the match until Benzema and Casemiro combined to make a decision the competition between a trophy-chasing powerhouse and a team needing a miracle to avoid the drop.
The biggest weapon of the Barcelona-based Espanyol was China forward Wu Lei, whose speed produced two promising attacks early . Madrid defender Dani Carvajal blocked a strike by Sergi Darder three minutes into the sport when Wu found him with a coffee cross.
But Madrid proved the more dangerous side throughout. Casemiro forced goalkeeper Diego L pez to palm his lob from Madrid’s own half over the bar before Benzema tested him with a strong shot within the 36th.
L pez was helpless within the 45th when Benzema found out Casemiro, and therefore the hosts never gave signs of recovering during a last half dominated by Madrid’s high ball possession.
“The goal is Karim’s,” Casemiro said.