BARCELONA (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema produced an audacious back-heeled assist for Casemiro to score as they beat Espanyol 1-0 away on Sunday to capitalise on Barcelona’s slip-up a day earlier and move two points clear at the top of La Liga.
Brazilian midfielder Casemiro slid to the ground to guide the ball home on the stroke of halftime after being played in by a stroke of genius from Benzema, who dragged the ball through the legs of his marker Bernardo Espinosa to find his team mate.
Casemiro ran straight to Frenchman Benzema to thank him for the pass and dedicated the goal to him.
“The goal belongs to Karim. We’re used to the quality he brings to his play and I had to celebrate it with him because it was all down to him,” Casemiro said.
“We know how good he is and that’s why I called for the ball as I knew he would lay the ball off to me.”
Coach Zinedine Zidane added: “I’m not surprised by what Karim did at all, he is a player who keeps inventing things on the pitch and his control and backheel was super. It might be the best piece of play of the season.”
Real’s players embraced each other when the final whistle arrived to signal a fifth consecutive victory which took them top on 71 points after 32 games. Barca, who were held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Saturday, are second on 69.
Espanyol, playing their first game under caretaker Francisco Rufete after he became their fourth manager of a troubling campaign, remain rooted to the bottom on 24 points.
Casemiro was Real’s most dangerous player and nearly opened the scoring early on with a wild shot from his own half which forced Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez to scramble back towards his line and push the ball away.
Casemiro then somehow missed the target with a header when he appeared unmarked from close range, but he soon made amends thanks to the quick-thinking of Benzema.
“This is how I see football and I could see Casemiro arriving,” added Benzema. “It was a nice assist but the goal was more important, Casemiro did well and got us three important points after a very difficult game.”
Real looked in control for most of the match but had to endure two nervy moments in the final stages.
Espanyol’s Espinosa was inches away from connecting with a ball which flashed across the face of goal while Real defender Marcelo was forced to block a shot in added time which he almost deflected into his own net but the ball skidded wide.