Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has said he was delighted that centre-back Pepe had chosen to stay at the club last summer after his header sealed a 1-0 win at Espanyol on Sunday.
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Pepe, 30, was strongly linked with a move to Manchester City last summer after losing his place to French teenager Raphael Varane last season -- but he decided to stay, and now seems an automatic pick for Ancelotti.
The Portugal international rose unmarked to convert Luka Modric's fine freekick, and Ancelotti the his postgame news conference that the defender was a man in form.
"[Pepe] is having a very good season," the Italian coach said. "At the start he was hesitant about staying, and I told him that he that he was important for us.
"We have two good centre-backs [Sergio Ramos being Pep's regular partner]. We have got Varane too, who we hope to get back soon, and Nacho, who is doing well. It is no coincidence that the team has done better defensively in recent matches. The defenders have improved a lot."
Pepe told Madrid's official website he was happy to have scored the goal that put them within three points of La Liga co-leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
"It was a goal that helped the team," he said. "The most important thing is the win. We knew Espanyol are a tough team at home and that we would have to fight for everything, and that is what we did."
Pepe joined Madrid for 30 million euros in 2007 and has since made over 200 appearances for them, winning La Liga, Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercopa medals.