Pepe's second-half header clinched a much-needed win for Real Madrid in their pursuit of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the Spanish title race.

Carlo Ancelotti's side moved within three points of the top two, despite a disjointed display against Espanyol.

Ballon d'Or favourite Cristiano Ronaldo suffered a rare off day, fluffing a first-half chance inside the six-yard box and curling wide late on.

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Very important victory to finish the first round of games. Serious match and a well earned win

But Pepe's towering header from Luka Modric's delivery clinched a vital win.

Despite their profligacy, Los Blancos were rarely threatened by a mid-table Espanyol side and looked comfortable as they recorded their seventh straight win in all competitions.

In fact, they have not been beaten since the 2-1 reverse at Barcelona on 26 October. But the defeat at the Nou Camp, coupled with a 1-0 home loss to neighbours Atletico, has left Real playing catch up in the title race.

The third-placed side knew their trip to Espanyol was one where they could not afford to drop points after seeing Atletico hold leaders Barcelona to a goalless draw on Saturday.

Espanyol started on the front foot as they hassled Real from the kick off and could have taken a third-minute lead when Uruguayan forward Cristian Stuani headed wide.

But Madrid gradually found their rhythm after riding out the early pressure, creating all of the best goalscoring opportunities.

Ronaldo's remarkable year

"It has been Cristiano Ronaldo's year, and while a Ballon d'Or would be the icing on the cake, he does not need the Fifa's top player award to prove it."

Portugal forward Ronaldo, who is expected to be named the world player of the year at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony in Switzerland, failed to cleanly connect with Karim Benzema's square pass before the France striker headed past the Espanyol post in stoppage time.

However, Real needed just 10 minutes of the second half to make their breakthrough. Portugal defender Pepe was left totally unmarked as he nodded into the far corner from Modric's deep free-kick.

World record signing Gareth Bale started his first La Liga game in almost a month after a calf injury, but barely featured before being substituted with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Real continued to press, without being seriously tested at the other end, only for Ronaldo to miss two more clearcut opportunities.

Firstly, the 28-year-old was denied by a superb one-handed save from Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, before delicately bending wide with the home goal gaping.

Lineup, Bookings (3) & Substitutions (6)

Espanyol

  • 13 Casilla Cortés
  • 16 López Rodríguez
  • 18 Fuentes Hernández
  • 03 Rodríguez
  • 19 Colotto
  • 15 Moreno
  • 25 Torje Booked (Sabrosa - 65' )
  • 04 Sánchez Mata
  • 24 Córdoba Booked
  • 22 Fernández Iglesias (Lanzarote - 65' )
  • 08 Stuani (Afonso Fernandes - 84' )

Substitutes

  • 01 Parreño Boix
  • 06 da Silva Junior
  • 10 Afonso Fernandes
  • 11 Capdevila
  • 12 Lanzarote
  • 20 Sabrosa
  • 23 González Casanova

Real Madrid

  • 25 López
  • 15 Carvajal (Arbeloa - 91' )
  • 12 Marcelo
  • 14 Alonso
  • 03 Pepe
  • 04 Ramos
  • 19 Modric Booked
  • 22 Di María
  • 09 Benzema (Illarramendi - 90' )
  • 11 Bale (Jesé - 76' )
  • 07 Ronaldo

Substitutes

  • 01 Casillas
  • 17 Arbeloa
  • 18 Nacho
  • 20 Jesé
  • 21 Morata
  • 23 Isco
  • 24 Illarramendi
Ref: José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes
Att: 31,500

Match Stats

Shots

11 23

On target

1 8

Corners

3 8

Fouls

19 12

Live Text Commentary

Full time

Full Time Match ends, Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1.

90:00 +3:07 Full time

Full Time Second Half ends, Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1.

90:00 +2:11

Attempt missed. Javi López (Espanyol) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Simão.

90:00 +0:27 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Real Madrid. Álvaro Arbeloa replaces Daniel Carvajal.

89:39 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Real Madrid. Asier Illarramendi replaces Karim Benzema.

88:54

Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right.

88:52

Attempt saved. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ángel Di María.

85:25

Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Luka Modric with a cross following a set piece situation.

84:36

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

84:36

Foul by Héctor Moreno (Espanyol).

84:03

Foul by Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid).

84:03

Pizzi (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

83:33 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Espanyol. Pizzi replaces Christian Stuani.

82:48 Booking

Booking Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

82:19

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

82:19

Foul by Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol).

81:46

Foul by Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

81:46

Diego Colotto (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

81:06

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Kiko Casilla.

81:04

Attempt saved. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Marcelo.

79:40

Foul by Luka Modric (Real Madrid).

79:40

Víctor Sánchez (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

77:27

Attempt missed. Manuel Lanzarote (Espanyol) left footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Javi López.

76:26

Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

76:26

Foul by Christian Stuani (Espanyol).

75:51 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Real Madrid. Jesé replaces Gareth Bale.

75:29

Hand ball by Fuentes (Espanyol).

75:23

Attempt blocked. Raúl Rodríguez (Espanyol) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Manuel Lanzarote.

73:34

Foul by Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid).

73:34

Christian Stuani (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

70:27

Foul by Luka Modric (Real Madrid).

70:27

Simão (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

68:55

Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

68:55

Foul by Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol).

68:16

Offside, Real Madrid. Marcelo tries a through ball, but Karim Benzema is caught offside.

68:15

Attempt blocked. Marcelo (Real Madrid) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Karim Benzema.

67:06

Attempt blocked. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Daniel Carvajal with a cross.

66:06

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Héctor Moreno.

65:14

Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Ángel Di María following a fast break.

64:34

Foul by Luka Modric (Real Madrid).

64:34

Héctor Moreno (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

64:11 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Espanyol. Simão replaces Gabriel Torje.

64:07 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Espanyol. Manuel Lanzarote replaces Álex.

62:28

Attempt saved. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ángel Di María.

61:45

Attempt blocked. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Luka Modric with a cross.

61:07

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Fuentes.

59:17

Offside, Real Madrid. Ángel Di María tries a through ball, but Cristiano Ronaldo is caught offside.

57:36 Booking

Booking Gabriel Torje (Espanyol) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

57:26

Marcelo (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

57:26

Foul by Gabriel Torje (Espanyol).

54:54 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1. Pepe (Real Madrid) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Luka Modric with a cross following a set piece situation.

54:09

Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

54:09

Foul by Christian Stuani (Espanyol).

53:15

Attempt saved. Christian Stuani (Espanyol) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Víctor Sánchez.

51:12

Attempt blocked. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is blocked. Assisted by Gareth Bale.

47:45

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

47:45

Foul by Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol).

45:46

Marcelo (Real Madrid) wins a free kick on the left wing.

45:46

Foul by Gabriel Torje (Espanyol).

45:00

Second Half begins Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 0.

45:00 +0:19 Half time

Half Time First Half ends, Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 0.

44:51

Hand ball by Karim Benzema (Real Madrid).

43:41

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Fuentes.

43:39

Attempt blocked. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Cristiano Ronaldo.

43:17

Attempt blocked. Álex (Espanyol) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Jhon Córdoba.

41:24

Attempt missed. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Gareth Bale with a cross.

41:05

Attempt blocked. Álex (Espanyol) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

40:28

Foul by Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).

40:28

Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol) wins a free kick on the right wing.

39:12

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

39:12

Foul by Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol).

36:13

Attempt blocked. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

36:09

Attempt saved. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.

35:15

Hand ball by Fuentes (Espanyol).

34:30

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

34:30

Foul by Javi López (Espanyol).

33:23

Attempt saved. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.

32:12

Attempt missed. Ángel Di María (Real Madrid) left footed shot from the left side of the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Cristiano Ronaldo with a headed pass following a corner.

31:39

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Kiko Casilla.

31:37

Attempt saved. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Ángel Di María.

29:25

Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

29:25

Foul by Christian Stuani (Espanyol).

27:11

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Javi López.

24:49

Attempt missed. Luka Modric (Real Madrid) right footed shot from the right side of the box is too high. Assisted by Gareth Bale.

23:41

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

23:41

Foul by Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol).

22:34

Foul by Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).

22:34

Javi López (Espanyol) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

22:01

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Christian Stuani.

21:17

Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

21:17

Foul by Fuentes (Espanyol).

19:56

Attempt missed. Jhon Córdoba (Espanyol) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Gabriel Torje following a fast break.

19:39

Attempt saved. Ángel Di María (Real Madrid) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Karim Benzema.

18:42

Offside, Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo tries a through ball, but Karim Benzema is caught offside.

18:41

Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Karim Benzema.

17:44

Corner, Real Madrid. Conceded by Raúl Rodríguez.

17:42

Attempt blocked. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ángel Di María.

14:19

Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

14:19

Foul by Christian Stuani (Espanyol).

13:55

Foul by Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid).

13:55

Christian Stuani (Espanyol) wins a free kick on the left wing.

13:05

Attempt missed. Christian Stuani (Espanyol) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Gabriel Torje with a cross following a corner.

12:35

Corner, Espanyol. Conceded by Sergio Ramos.

12:12 Booking

Booking Luka Modric (Real Madrid) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

11:48

Foul by Luka Modric (Real Madrid).

11:48

Víctor Sánchez (Espanyol) wins a free kick on the left wing.

11:18

Attempt blocked. Christian Stuani (Espanyol) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Gabriel Torje with a cross.

10:58

Corner, Espanyol. Conceded by Sergio Ramos.

10:20

Corner, Espanyol. Conceded by Sergio Ramos.

9:06

Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

9:06

Foul by Christian Stuani (Espanyol).

8:40

Offside, Real Madrid. Xabi Alonso tries a through ball, but Gareth Bale is caught offside.

6:48

Attempt missed. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Ángel Di María with a cross.

4:52

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

4:52

Foul by Javi López (Espanyol).

4:37

Hand ball by Gabriel Torje (Espanyol).

3:32

Attempt missed. Christian Stuani (Espanyol) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Fuentes.

3:30

Attempt missed. Fuentes (Espanyol) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right.

1:03

Foul by Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid).

1:03

Christian Stuani (Espanyol) wins a free kick on the left wing.

0:00

First Half begins.

0:00

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.

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