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Sunday, 4 March 2012

Real crush Espanyol to be in the driver's seat

Barcelona: Real Madrid brushed aside Espanyol 5-0 on Sunday to march on toward their first Spanish league title in four seasons with their 10th consecutive win.

Real dominated throughout, barely breaking a sweat in a commanding victory that restored their 10-point lead over defendings Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of a defensive error by Espanyol to open the scoring with his league-leading 30th goal.

Germany midfielder Sami Khedira added a goal before halftime. Gonzalo Higuain then scored twice and Kaka also found the net in the second half to seal Real's 12th win in 13 league games at Santiago Bernabeu stadium this season.

"The team was focused on what it needed to do and we played the easiest game we could," Kaka said. "We have to continue winning points because we face a very competitive adversary."

Earlier, Athletic Bilbao prepared for their Europa League clash with Manchester United by beating Real Sociedad 2-0 thanks to a double from Markel Susaeta.

Marcelo provided Real's first glimpses of danger with his incursions down the left flank in an otherwise lackluster start for his team that had more offside decisions go against it than scoring chances.

But for as slow as Real began, Espanyol's nerves led them to losing the ball again and again due to pressure, and it was just a matter of time before the hosts went ahead.

Mesut Oezil latched on to Espanyol defender Raul Rodriguez's poor pass and linked with Higuain, who slipped the ball for Ronaldo alone in the area to rifle home the 23rd-minute opener for his 38th goal in all competitions.

Ronaldo, who has scored in his past five outings overall, is on pace to break his own league record of 40 goals set last season.

"It was a night to forget," Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino said. "I leave frustrated because we didn't compete, because we gave in early on with mistakes we don't usually make."

Khedira made it 2-0 in the 38th when he started and finished off a beautiful series of one-touch passes with Ronaldo and Oezil to split open the center of the defense before firing into the lower left corner of the net.

Real almost put the game away before halftime. But Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla denied Higuain on the break before blocking Ronaldo's long strike.

Yet Jose Mourinho's team only had to wait two minutes into the second half for Kaka to gallop free into the area and lay off for Higuain to beat Casilla from close range and celebrate his 150th appearance career appearance for Real.

With Espanyol demoralized, Kaka rolled a shot in off the far post in the 66th before again setting up Higuain to volley into the top corner of the net in the 78th for his 16th goal of the season.
"We knew we needed to maintain our lead in the table," Higuain said. "We are happy not only with the victory but with the way we went about earning it."

Bilbao's victory in the lively Basque derby extended their home unbeaten run to six games and provisionally lifted them into fourth place.

Susaeta put Bilbao ahead in the 25th and secured the result with a superb free kick in the 81st as Bilbao rose two points clear of Levante, who play Real Betis on Monday.

"This was a game every player dreams of," said Susaeta, who has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season. "We played well in the first half, but in the second half our pressure fell off and they gave us problems until the second goal."

The Basque team plays at Man United on Thursday for the first leg of its round-of-16 series.
Elsewhere, Sofiane Feghouli's first-half goal gave Valencia a hard-fought 1-0 win at Granada as they reinforced their hold on third place, while last-place Zaragoza scored twice late on to beat Villarreal 2-1.

On Saturday, a 10-man Barcelona team beat Sporting Gijon 3-1.

Also, it was: Getafe 1, Malaga 3; Mallorca 1, Osasuna 1; Rayo Vallecano 4, Racing Santander 2 and Sevilla 1, Atletico Madrid 1.


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