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Asensio scores the winner as Real battle past Espanyol

Madrid (AFP) – Real Madrid moved top of La Liga on Saturday after Marco Asensio’s goal proved the difference in a scrappy 1-0 win over Espanyol. 

Their victory at the Santiago Bernabeu may only reward Madrid with 24 hours above Barcelona, who play Girona on Sunday, with their perfect league record still intact. 

More pressing for Julen Lopetegui will be the defensive slackness that made this arguably the least assured of the six competitive games he has overseen so far, including last weekend’s draw away to Athletic Bilbao. 

There were changes, with Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Dani Carvajal all rested, the latter not even included on the bench, following Real’s win over Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday. 

But if Lopetegui’s side gift Atletico Madrid the same chances in the city derby next weekend, they may not find their opponents so generous. Atletico had earlier ground out a 2-0 win away to Getafe. 

Carvajal’s absence meant a debut for Alvaro Odriozola, who joined from Real Sociedad in the summer, while Thibaut Courtois returned after Keylor Navas started against Roma to continue Lopetegui’s rotation strategy in goal. 

Espanyol twice could have scored on the counter-attack. The first sprung from a poor header from Raphael Varane but Pablo Piatti dragged his finish wide. 

Soon after they were in again, as Hernan Perez’s shot had to be parried by Courtois before Didac Vila’s rebound was blocked by Casemiro. 

The hosts were more impressive going forward and in the 41st minute, they took the lead. Luka Modric’s scuffed shot landed kindly at the feet of Asensio and he did brilliantly to harpoon the ball into the far corner. 

Borja Iglesias even hit the crossbar with a scooped finish late on but Real held out for a battling win.

– Lemar lifts Atletico –

Atletico’s victory was more comfortable and they had Thomas Lemar to thank after the Frenchman scored his first goal for the club and instigated another in their victory over Getafe. 

Lemar finished off a superb passing move for Atletico’s second and had been the protagonist for their first, even if his crashing drive struck the woodwork and went in off Getafe goalkeeper David Soria. 

The result was all but secure when Getafe’s Ivan Alejo was sent off shortly after the hour for a dangerous tackle on Saul Niguez. 

Atleti had not lost to Getafe, or even conceded a single goal, in 13 previous meetings but this victory meant more to Diego Simeone’s side than a routine three points. 

One win from their opening four league games hardly pointed to a team poised to challenge for the title and it had cost them a seven-point gap behind leaders Barcelona. 

This was also the first time Lemar looked like the player Atletico must have hoped they bought when they spent 72 million euros ($84 million) on him in the summer. 

The first goal was almost a cracker as Lemar collected the ball off Antoine Griezmann 30 yards out and let rip with his left foot. Soria was beaten but the crossbar was not, and it needed an unfortunate deflection of the goalkeeper to find the net. 

Getafe were unfortunate to be behind but there was no doubt about the second after half-time. A sweeping move saw Atletico move the ball from right to left, with Koke applying the final pass in behind. Lemar touched it around Soria and slotted into the empty net. 

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