Real Madrid snap two-match losing streak, top Espanyol in La Liga
Real Madrid put a forgettable week behind them as they got back to winning ways with a 3-0 victory over Espanyol at the Bernabeu.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men were beaten by Valencia last Sunday and city rivals Atletico in the Copa Del Rey in midweek, but goals from James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale and Nacho Fernandez ensured they avoided a hat-trick of defeats. It was, though, a third loss in seven days for Espanyol, who could not capitalize despite the hosts having Fabio Coentrao sent off shortly after half-time.
Before their defeat to Valencia, Real had won their last 22 matches and welcomed back Cristiano Ronaldo to their line-up after the talismanic Portuguese sat out the loss to Atletico. Espanyol started well enough, with efforts from Felipe Caicedo and Sergio Garcia, but were powerless to stop Real once they got into their stride.
Bale’s free-kick into the area caused havoc as Karim Benzema’s effort struck a post, but they took a 12th-minute lead when Rodriguez converted from Ronaldo’s clever cutback. Visiting goalkeeper Francisco Casilla saved from Raphael Varane, but he could do little to stop his goal from being breached again in the 28th minute.
After Anaitz Arbilla fouled Isco 25 yards from goal, Wales midfielder Bale stepped up and his free-kick crashed off the inside of a post before nestling into the net. Espanyol tightened up their defense as Real, perhaps with an eye to the return clash with Atletico in the cup on Thursday, eased off.
Sergio Gonzalez’s men’s hopes of forcing a result were boosted when Coentrao was given his marching orders in the 53rd minute, receiving a straight red card for a rash foul on Jose Canas. But that only served to refocus Real, who went close soon after as Varane and Bale missed the target with close range headers.
But they were not be denied as substitute Nacho netted in the 77th minute with a lovely finish from Alvaro Arbeloa’s pass. Isco could have made it four in the closing stages, but his strike from just outside the area was wonderfully tipped over by Casilla.
After the match, Bale came in for criticism from Madrid fans at the Bernabeu on Saturday night after shooting wide when clean through against Espanyol rather than squaring the ball to team-mate Ronaldo alongside him. Ronaldo also appeared to be angry at not being given what would have been a tap-in for him following the breakaway in the second half of the 3-0 win.
The incident came a week after Bale was also criticised for going for goal instead of passing to Karim Benzema during the European champions’ 2-1 defeat at Valencia — a result that saw the end of Madrid’s 22-match winning streak. When asked about the subject following Saturday’s game, Ancelotti said selflessness was an important part of his side’s play, but did not criticise Bale, who scored Madrid’s second goal with a superb free-kick.
The Italian told a press conference: "Bale has played a very, very good game. He’s played with intensity and he’s scored. It could be that at that moment the fans have asked for a pass to Cristiano which hasn’t happened and like all strikers who are in front of goal he tried to score."
He added: "Altruism is a very important component of the team this season. If there is any play which seems selfish we’ll clearly fix it. We have fans who demand a lot. Bale is a fundamental player like Cristiano and for that the fans demand much more than of others."
Meanwhile, Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez – who scored his side’s third goal against Espanyol following first-half strikes by James Rodriguez and Bale – insists the relationship between Bale and Ronaldo is "fantastic. "He said in AS: "Their relationship is fantastic. We’re a group, we all get on amazingly."
"Bale played a great game," Isco said afterwards. And asked about the attack in which the Welshman shot instead of squaring for Cristiano, he added: "These things happen in football. He may not have seen him."