Benzema, Modric at their best as Real Madrid continue recent momentum
Real Madrid returned to third place in La Liga after an entertaining 4-2 victory at Espanyol on Sunday evening.
Blancos fans who were bored by their team just a few weeks back will have enjoyed a second 4-2 victory in four days. Karim Benzema's opener on 187 seconds was Madrid's quickest goal of the season, with collective intensity from first whistle a big difference to lethargic starts earlier in the campaign. Big players Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric are hitting their best form of season, while Gareth Bale scoring on his return from injury was also a big plus.
A renewed lack of concentration in defence lead to Espanyol's goals from Leo Baptistao and Roberto Rosales, and also saw Raphael Varane sent off for a professional foul when the game seemed already long won. A potential knee injury to captain Ramos is a worry, especially with Varane now facing a suspension. Teenager Vinicius Junior maybe needs a rest after playing a lot lately.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Benzema's opener was exactly what Santiago Solari wants from his team, pressure in the opposition's half and striking directly. Faith in physical preparation specialist Antonio Pintus is really paying off lately with the team's fitness looking much better. There remains concerns that so many players pressing so high up the pitch is leaving the defence exposed.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Could do little about either goal as both were smashed past him from close range.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Early driving runs forward from right-back were a sign that Madrid were fired up and going for it. Denied a goal by former teammate Diego Lopez in the second half, after a magical set-up from Benzema, then headed a ball off line when Espanyol were on top late on.
DF Raphael Varane, 5 -- Won't be happy about his role in Baptistao's goal, or especially a first straight red card of his club career after being caught on the wrong side of Espanyol sub Pablo Piatti.
DF Sergio Ramos, 7 -- A typical centre-forward's header guided right Into the far corner for his third goal in two games to make it 2-0. Removed at half-time, presumably as a precaution, after shipping a painful knock to the knee when fouled by Espanyol's Sergio Garcia.
DF Sergio Reguilon, 7 -- Another composed and impressive showing from the 21 year old who is really settled in on the left side of Madrid's first-choice defence now. Moved to the wing when Marcelo entered amid a late reshuffle.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Took advantage of Espanyol defence opening up to drive right through for a shot which led to the opening goal, then expertly picked out Ramos from a short-corner routine for the second. Getting back towards his best now, and linked beautifully with Benzema many times.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Sharp and attentive at the base of midfield, will know he needs to keep playing well with understudy Marcos Llorente back to fitness. Then filled in at centre-back after Varane left early.
MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- Settled straight back in on his first start after three weeks out with an adductor muscle problem. Showed his class with the key pass in the build-up to the third goal, although his shooting still looked rusty.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Got through his usual mountain of work against his former side, without ever really threatening to score or create anything.
FW Karim Benzema, 9 -- Superb all-round performance from a player in the form of his career at the moment, leading his markers a merry dance for most of the game. First goal was a poacher's effort he's been often accused of not getting enough of while the second was a superb curled strike after he had constructed the entire move himself.
FW Vinicius Junior, 6 -- Frustrating evening for the young Brazilian, with his best moment being his important role in the third goal. Now up to 15 shots, nine on target, without scoring a La Liga goal. Was perhaps lucky the officials did not see a suspicious-looking off-the-ball altercation with marker Mario Hermoso.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Replaced Ramos at the break and made a couple of sharp interventions as he had more work to do than expected.
FW Gareth Bale, 8 -- On his return from four weeks out with a latest calf muscle problem, his first involvement saw him turn two Espanyol defenders and smash the ball into the net from 10 yards out.
DF Marcelo, N/R -- After entering late on in a reshuffled defence, he was slow to push up and played Rosales onside as he made it 2-4.