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2018/2019 Spanish Primera División
  • Marco Asensio (41')

Marco Asensio scores as Real Madrid go one point clear in La Liga

Marco Asensio celebrates his goal against Espanyol. Juanjo Martin/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Marco Asensio's strike earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win over dogged Espanyol to send them provisionally top of La Liga on Saturday.

Julen Lopetegui's side were tested by the visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Borja Iglesias hitting the crossbar, but Real held on for the victory.

After an emphatic Champions League win over AS Roma on Wednesday, Lopetegui shuffled his pack for the visit of Espanyol, sixth in the table after a good start to the season.

The coach rested Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Toni Kroos, handing a debut to defender Alvaro Odriozola in place of the injured Dani Carvajal.

Real dominated possession but Espanyol were a persistent threat on the break.

"[The clean sheet] was really important for us, we don't want to let in goals," Real defender Raphael Varane said. "Espanyol played very well but we played as a team and did not concede."

Pablo Piatti fired narrowly wide for the visitors and Thibaut Courtois was forced to keep out Hernan Perez's strike. The former Chelsea player is still adjusting to Lopetegui and Real's style of play, but his manager backed him after the performance against Espanyol.

"He has the ability to do [play out of the back], he already does it and can improve even more" Lopetegui said. "I wouldn't put emphasis on a problem that doesn't exist. He has a good command of the ball and a nice strike. When a restart doesn't work out, sometimes it's not the keeper's fault."

The hosts took the lead four minutes before the break, when Luka Modric's pass took a triple deflection but found its way to Asensio, who steered home his first goal in La Liga this season.

The forward had to wait for VAR to prove he was onside before he could celebrate.

Espanyol forward Iglesias took advantage of Real captain Sergio Ramos's hesitancy after the break, stealing the ball and chipping Courtois, but his effort bounced back off the crossbar.

"We're furious [about losing], we had chances to score," Iglesias said. "I saw [Courtois] off his line and shot but it hit the crossbar. Maybe next time it will go in."

Ramos nearly made amends at the other end but Diego Lopez tipped over the defender's header from Isco's beautiful swerving cross.

Real held on despite late Espanyol pressure to take top spot before second-placed Barcelona host Girona on Sunday in a Catalan derby.

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"They are two different competitions," he said when asked if fans could feel a little bit disappointed after the display on Wednesday night against Roma. "La Liga has complicated points along the way and this was one of them. That's how La Liga is and we knew that. The most important thing is that the team got three points, knew how to suffer and that's how you win a league title. The lesson is that we knew how to suffer because we didn't know how to close the game."

Sergio Ramos was the source of Real Madrid's attack on Saturday night on several occasions but Lopetegui says that it's not something planned in their tactics.

"These situations sometimes arrive, someone robs the balls, and sees the possibility to mount an attack," he says. "It's not something spoken about, they are spontaneous situations."

Thibaut Courtois returned to the side after dropping to the bench against Roma with Keylor Navas deputising and Lopetegui says the Belgian is learning how to play football with his feet.

"He has the ability to do it, he already does it and can improve even more" he said when asked if Courtois needs improving with the ball at his feet. "I wouldn't put emphasis on a problem that doesn't exist. He has a good command of the ball and a nice strike. When a restart doesn't work out, sometimes it's not the keeper's fault.

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