A brace from the excellent Isco helped Real Madrid overcome Espanyol and secure a crucial three points at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
The ethereal, elegant Spaniard gave his side the lead in a dominant first-half, and added a second twenty minutes from time to seal the win.
Espanyol came close on more than one occasion to levelling the scores in the second-half, but they were unable to convert the chances they created.
Beginning the game an unprecedented ten points behind Barcelona, Real Madrid were very nearly in front within the first minute when Isco raced through on goal but saw his shot saved by Pau Lopez.
There was a palpable sense of expectation around the Bernabeu, a feeling that anything but a comfortable win would be inconceivable. And the inexorable dominance of the hosts in the early stages suggested that the players were aware of it, too.
Despite Real Madrid’s complete control, though, Espanyol remained relatively compact and resilient, albeit having hardly ventured out of their own half.
But just before the half-hour mark, Isco made amends for his earlier miss to poke Real Madrid into the lead after a delicate through ball from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zinedine Zidane’s side threatened to run away with the game after the goal, Ronaldo squandering two chances to double the lead.
Espanyol would have been grateful to reach half-time just one goal down, but they came very close to an unexpected equaliser when Gerard Moreno turned and struck a left-footed shot against the post.
Immediately after the break, Keylor Navas was forced into action to keep out substitute
Isco has now scored or assisted 19 goals in his last 26 starts for Real Madrid across all competitions.
12 goals ⚽️
7 assists ️
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 1, 2017
Victory saw Real Madrid climb to fifth in the fledgling La Liga table, but still seven points behind Ernesto Valverde’s impressive Barcelona.