(Reuters) – Karim Benzema scored twice in the final few minutes to give Real Madrid a 3-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday, their third in the first three games of the new LaLiga season.
Real Madrid sit top of the table on nine points, level with Real Betis. Barcelona and Villarreal are right behind on seven points, with Osasuna and Real Sociedad on six.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the first half with a first-touch finish from a brilliant pass by Aurelien Tchouameni.
The young French midfielder put in another solid performance in place of the departed Casemiro, who left the club after signing for Manchester United.
Tchouameni added an extra dimension to the Real midfield and showed why they agreed to pay a potential 100 million euros ($99.49 million) fee to Monaco for the 22-year-old France international.
Real were in control until Joselu levelled from a rebound right before halftime and, roared on by their fans, Espanyol put up a fight against the Champions League and LaLiga champions, dominating most of the second half.
Javi Puado almost put the home team in front after collecting a good pass inside the box, but his shot ended up being blocked by a defender for a corner.
In the 58th, keeper Thibaut Courtois pulled off a fantastic one-handed stop to keep out Joselu’s close-range shot.
As Espanyol upped the aggression, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti brought on youngsters Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga and they started to turn the match in Real’s favour, especially on the counter-attack.
Benzema had a great opportunity but was denied by keeper Benjamin Lecomte, put another effort wide, and had a goal ruled out by the video assistant referee on a really close offside call.
Yet two minutes from time, Rodrygo found Benzema at the far post with a perfect cross and the French striker put Real Madrid back in front.
In added time, the video assistant referee spotted a foul by Lecomte on Dani Ceballos in what was considered a clear goal-scoring opportunity on the edge of the area.
Lecomte was shown a straight red card and Benzema took charge of the free kick, bending it into the bottom corner to wrap up the points.
“It was not easy and it will not be easy,” coach Carlo Ancelotti told Movistar Plus.
“We started very well, we scored but then we went down. After their goal, it was more complicated. It ended in a two-way match and we were very good.
“We were spot on with the changes we made. Rodrygo and Camavinga gave us the energy that we needed.”
($1 = 1.0051 euros)
(Reporting by Fernando KallasEditing by Toby Davis)