MADRID: Real Madrid shrugged off the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to record a club record 16th consecutive league win 2-0 at Espanyol to stay top of La Liga on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
James Rodriguez made the most of a rare start to open the scoring in first-half stoppage time before Karim Benzema sealed all three points 20 minutes from time.
Victory restores Real’s three-point lead over Barcelona and Las Palmas and equals Barca’s La Liga record of 16 straight wins under Pep Guardiola in 2010/11.
“I am happy not just with the goals of James and Karim but with their performance in general,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.
“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 last 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 area only for the Brazilian to fire straight at Kiko Casilla.
Rodriguez was making his first start in 133 days after shining in Madrid’s miraculous late come from behind win against Sporting Lisbon in midweek.
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 Bernabeu during the recently closed transfer window.
“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 period.
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 box by the Frenchman.
However, Benzema wasn’t 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 Los Che surrendered an early 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao.
“I have to think about how to turn this situation around,” said under-fire Valencia coach Pako Ayestaran.
Nani set up Alvaro Medran to put the visitors in front after just two minutes.
However, Benat Etxebarria teed up Aritz Aduriz for his first two goals of the season to turn the game around before half-time and condemn Valencia to their worst start in 17 years.
“When a team has gone on a run of three defeats and receive a blow that they don’t expect, it affects them,” added Ayestaran.
“We forgot how to play. The team are distraught.”
At the other end of the table, Villarreal moved up to sixth with their third win in a week as Nicola Sansone’s first-half double earned a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad.
Celta Vigo moved off the bottom with their first point of the season in a 0-0 draw at Osasuna.