Real Madrid snaps two-game losing streak with 3-0 triumph over Espanyol
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Gareth Bale scored with an unstoppable free kick to help 10-man Real Madrid end a two-game losing run with a 3-0 win over Espanyol and stay top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
James Rodriguez scored first after a long pass from Bale was headed back to the Colombian by Cristiano Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu in the 12th minute.
Bale made it 2-0 in the 28th when Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla could only watch as he rifled a left-foot free kick in off the post.
Madrid played with 10 men from the 53rd after Fabio Coentrao got a direct red card for a low tackle, but the difference was unnoticeable, and substitute Nacho Fernandez scored in the 76th with Espanyol in disarray.
Madrid's comfortable victory came after its Spanish record 22-win streak ended with losses at Valencia in the league and Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey.
Madrid built a four-point lead over Barcelona and Atletico, before the defending champion visits Camp Nou on Sunday.
A moment of silence was held before the match for the 12 people killed at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in Paris. Madrid also paraded its Club World Cup trophy won last month before kickoff.
Espanyol earned its share of possession late in the first half as it probed through the left side of its attack without much luck.
The visitors, however, were unable to take advantage of an extra man after defender Coentrao made a late sliding tackle that left him and Jose Canas in need of medical assistance. Ronaldo also received a yellow card for complaining about the decision to eject Coentrao.
Bale had a great chance to score in the 72nd when he sprinted onto Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's thoughball. But the winger drew both the reproach of some sectors of the stands and Ronaldo's ire when he didn't pass to his strike partner, instead rolling the ball wide.
Espanyol was left in 10th place.
Later, Valencia visited Celta Vigo, Villarreal aimed to keep up its undefeated streak at Malaga, and Eibar hosted Getafe.
Madrid hosts Atletico on Thursday needing to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat to keep alive its defense of the Copa del Rey title.