Real Madrid extended their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Espanyol on Saturday.
Raphael Varane opened his season account and sent Los Blancos on their way to a fourth consecutive LaLiga victory with a left-footed finish in the 37th minute.
Karim Benzema made the points safe when he swept home Federico Valverde’s pass 11 minutes from full-time, making Ferland Mendy’s late sending off for a needless second booking the only blight on an otherwise unfussy showing.
Madrid’s win momentarily edges them three points ahead of title rivals Barcelona, who host Mallorca later on Saturday.
Vinicius Junior started for the first time since October and registered two attempts on target inside the opening 30 minutes.
Thibaut Courtois clawed away Esteban Granero’s header between those chances before Varane made the breakthrough.
The defender stayed forward following a corner and finished with impressive poise after Benzema created space through neat footwork.
Vinicius escaped a potential second yellow for an ungainly collision with David Lopez, then forced goalkeeper Diego Lopez into a near-post save.
Espanyol’s number one prevented Benzema from doubling the margin when the French striker broke through on goal after the interval.
Benzema squandered another good chance to put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from full-time, turning wide from Rodrygo’s cut-back.
But the 31-year-old was not to be denied, his unerring low finish after Valverde’s fine build-play ensuring the late loss of Mendy for a silly foul on Victor Gomez counted for little.