Marcelo goal enough for ten-man Madrid
Real Madrid overcame the second-minute dismissal of Iker Casillas to beat Espanyol 1-0 at Cornella tonight and move to within five points of fierce rivals Barcelona at the top of the Primera Division.
Casillas was shown a straight red card for a supposed foul on Jose Callejon just outside the box after less than 90 seconds, but the Espanyol forward went to ground far too easily after minimal contact with the Spain goalkeeper.
The dismissal - only the second in Casillas' distinguished career at Real - produced an immediate reshuffle from Real coach Jose Mourinho, who sent on reserve goalkeeper Adan and hauled off Argentina winger Angel di Maria.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Real looked the more dangerous and Marcelo gave the visitors the lead midway through the first half when he drilled home from a tight angle. Emmanuel Adebayor missed three glorious chances to extend Real's lead, but Marcelo's strike proved enough as Mourinho's side kept Espanyol at bay with relative ease in the second half.
"Espanyol are a strong opponent and they always have fantastic support. Losing your goalkeeper in the second minute and giving a debut to another keeper was tough," said Real coach Mourinho. "The players were fantastic, though, and we deserved to win." Asked about the five-point gap held by Barcelona, the Portuguese replied: "Five points is an advantage and I would like to be five points clear of second."
Casillas given early red card
Real had been seven points behind league leaders Barcelona prior to this weekend's fixtures, but saw the Catalans surprisingly held at Sporting Gijon last night. That gave Mourinho's men the opportunity to move within five points of their eternal enemy with a win tonight, but things did not start well.
Casillas, whose only previous dismissal had come at Osasuna in 2006, looked disgusted as he was given his marching orders inside two minutes. And the Espanyol fans, who had seen their side win all but two of their home matches in the Primera Division this season, sensed an upset.
But Mourinho sides are often even harder to break down with ten men than 11, as Barça found out to their cost in last season's UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Inter Milan. Following the early dismissal of Thiago Motta in that match, the Portuguese's well-drilled side defended brilliantly and held on to lose just 1-0, which was enough for his team to advance to the final - which they later won - at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Now installed as coach at the Bernabeu, Real have proved equally stubborn at times, although their last trip to Barcelona ended in a 5-0 defeat at the Camp Nou. There was no chance of a repeat this time around, though, even with ten men. Sami Khedira twice tested Carlos Kameni, who looked nervous following his error-strewn display in the defeat at Almeria last weekend, as the game settled down.
Marcelo scores the only goal
And Marcelo exposed what looks to be a weakness of the Cameroon goalkeeper when he rifled home from an acute angle to give Real the lead after 23 minutes. The goal, although less spectacular, was similar to Giuseppe Rossi's brilliant winner here two weeks ago. Then, at the other end of the pitch, Kameni was beaten at his near post from a seemingly impossible angle.
The African seemed even more culpable this time around and was almost forced to pick the ball out of his net for a second time shortly before half-time when Adebayor raced clear and scooped the ball over the goalkeeper's head, only to see his effort land on the crossbar and bounce over.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who had hit a shot into the 25th row and received ironic jeers in the first period, also saw a low effort saved by Kameni and was denied again from a free-kick early in the second half. Meanwhile, Ronaldo's Portugal team-mate Pepe was making an impressive return to the Real line-up after injury. The centre-back made several important interventions as the visitors continued to frustrate Espanyol.
The game had lost some of its early intensity, with Real happy to soak up the pressure and barely bothering to attack when they had the ball. Ronaldo almost set up Adebayor on one rare foray, while Callejon was crowded out at the other end and flashed a shot across the six-yard box when he should have at least tested Adan.
Adebayor should then have made the game safe in the final minutes, but the Togo striker twice shot straight at Kameni. Marcelo's strike was enough to settle it, however, and Real are very much back in the title race with 15 games - including a home fixture against Barça - still to play. Espanyol stay sixth following what was a third straight Primera Division defeat, but the Catalans are now eight points behind fourth-placed Villarreal.