Real Madrid made it 10 straight league victories on Saturday night with a 2-0 victory at 19th-placed Espanyol, reducing Barcelona's once-daunting lead at the top of the Primera Liga to just four points ahead of the Catalans' trip to Atletico Madrid.
Espanyol, inspired after defeating neighbours Barca last week for their first league win since November, started well with Ivan De La Pena and Roman Martinez their principle threats. Real, backed by an away following of 10,000 mainly Catalan-based fans in the 31,000 crowd, gradually began to assert dominance. Raul, the Real captain who announced that he will probably quit the club in 2011 before spending a season playing in the United States, was central to most of their attacks, but it was only the introduction of Guti, with half-an-hour left, that gave Real the impetus to claim victory.
The striker, who only recently returned from a lengthy injury lay-off, won a free-kick, seven minutes after replacing Wesley Sneijder, before picking himself up and striking the ball past Espanyol's Cameroon keeper Carlos Kameni into the top left corner. Raul then doubled the lead by converting a Marcelo pass from the edge of the area in the 72nd minute. "We're just taking each match one by one and collecting the points as we go," Raul said. "I think Barca are in good shape - they have some great players and a top coach - but we are definitely making things difficult for them."
"I am very happy to have scored at a time when we needed a goal," added Guti. "It was frustrating to be out injured for so long when the team weren't doing well. Now we're putting Barcelona under a lot of pressure and we'll be watching them closely." In the night's other game, a Freddie Kanoute-inspired Sevilla came from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao away 2-1. Igor Gabilondo had put the Basques ahead after 26 minutes before Kanoute equalised five minutes before the break with a sublime individual effort. He then grabbed the winner just before the hour. The sides meet again on Wednesday in Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg with Sevilla, who have the second-best away record in Spain, leading 2-1 from the first leg.
"We're a team with great ambition and, as you saw tonight, the quality to realise it," said the Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez. firstname.lastname@example.org