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MADRID, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Marco Asensio’s strike earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win over dogged Espanyol to send them provisionally top of La Liga on Saturday.
Julen Lopetegui’s side were tested by the visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Borja Iglesias hitting the crossbar, but Real held on for the victory.
After an emphatic Champions League win over AS Roma on Wednesday, Lopetegui shuffled his pack for the visit of Espanyol, sixth in the table after a good start to the season.
The coach rested Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Toni Kroos, handing a debut to defender Alvaro Odriozola in place of the injured Dani Carvajal.
Real dominated possession but Espanyol were a persistent threat on the break.
“(The clean sheet) was really important for us, we don’t want to let in goals,” Real defender Raphael Varane said. “Espanyol played very well but we played as a team and did not concede.”
Pablo Piatti fired narrowly wide for the visitors and Thibaut Courtois was forced to keep out Hernan Perez’s strike.
The hosts took the lead four minutes before the break, when Luka Modric’s pass took a triple deflection but found its way to Asensio, who steered home his first goal in La Liga this season.
The forward had to wait for VAR to prove he was onside before he could celebrate.
Espanyol forward Iglesias took advantage of Real captain Sergio Ramos’s hesitancy after the break, stealing the ball and chipping Courtois, but his effort bounced back off the crossbar.
“We’re furious (about losing), we had chances to score,” Iglesias said. “I saw (Courtois) off his line and shot but it hit the crossbar. Maybe next time it will go in.”
Ramos nearly made amends at the other end but Diego Lopez tipped over the defender’s header from Isco’s beautiful swerving cross.
Real held on despite late Espanyol pressure to take top spot before second-placed Barcelona host Girona on Sunday in a Catalan derby. (Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Ed Osmond)