MADRID - Real Madrid moved to within three points of La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Espanyol yesterday.
Portuguese defender Pepe got the only goal of the game when he rose highest to head home Luka Modric's free-kick 10 minutes after half-time.
Cristiano Ronaldo should then have added to his side's lead on a number of occasions.
But despite their star man having an off night in front of goal, Madrid comfortably held on for the three points as Espanyol created nothing of note after falling behind.
The hosts had started on the front foot and should have been in front after just three minutes when Cristian Stuani skewed his header wide when unmarked just six yards out.
Thereafter, though, Madrid had the better of the chances in the first-half without ever completely dominating the game.
Ronaldo uncharacteristically fluffed his lines after Karim Benzema's fine solo run down the left had freed the Portuguese inside the area.
Espanyol keeper Kiko Casilla also had to beat away Angel di Maria's long-range drive and a free-kick from Ronaldo.
However, the visitors best chances of the first 45 minutes came just before the break when Modric led a counter-attack, but after feeding Di Maria the Argentine failed to pick out one of four available teammates. The ball eventually fell to Gareth Bale and his cross was headed just wide by Benzema.
Madrid did make the breakthrough 10 minutes into the second-half as Modric's free-kick towards the back post was powerfully headed low into the far corner by the unmarked Pepe.