Gareth Bale scores on his return to Real Madrid side

Wales international comes off bench to complete victory over Espanyol

 Gareth Bale  celebrates after scoring Real Madrid’s  second goal in the La Liga match against  RCD Espanyol at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu  in Madrid. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring Real Madrid’s second goal in the La Liga match against RCD Espanyol at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

 

Real Madrid 2 Espanyol 0

Wales forward Gareth Bale marked his return from a three-month injury lay-off with a well-taken finish to seal Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Espanyol at the Bernabeu.

Bale last played in a Champions League group match at Sporting Lisbon on November 22nd before suffering tendon damage in his ankle, which needed surgery.

The 27-year-old, though, showed he had lost none of his electric pace nor eye for a cool finish when racing onto a pass from Isco down the left and slotting the ball into the far corner with eight minutes left.

A first-half header from Alvaro Morata had set Real Madrid on course for victory, which saw them move four points clear of Barcelona, who will have played two matches more after they host Leganes on Sunday.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane made the expected sweeping changes from the team which beat Napoli in their midweek Champions League last 16 first-leg tie.

Croatian playmaker Luka Modric and forward Karim Benzema were among those rested completely, while Marcelo and Casemiro were named among the substitutes along with Bale.

Pepe came into the centre of defence to partner Frenchman Raphael Varane while Lucas Vazquez and Alvaro Morata led the attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

After Pepe had sent a header off target, Morata weaved into the left side of the Espanyol penalty area and went to cut the ball back across the six-yard box, but defender Diego Reyes was alert to made a sliding block.

There was an enforced stoppage after 24 minutes when Mateo Kovacic needed treatment for a nasty cut under his eye following an accidental clash with Espanyol midfielder Papakouly Diop as the pair jumped for a high ball.

The Croatian was soon patched up and able to continue.

Toni Kroos whipped a deep free-kick into the Espanyol area and Morata clipped it over the crossbar, but the offside flag had already gone up.

On the half-hour, Ronaldo was put clear into the right side of the area, but his low shot across the face of goal was touched behind with Morata ready for a tap in at the far post.

From the resulting corner, Ronaldo thought he had put Real Madrid in front, but his finish at the near post was ruled out for offiside.

Real Madrid’s pressure eventually told as they took the lead in the 33rd minute.

Isco was given time out on the right to look up and send over a looping cross, which Morata dispatched into the bottom corner with a flying header.

Espanyol remained under pressure as the first half drew to a close, with Morata blocked by David Lopez just as the striker looked set to slot in a second.

On 55 minutes, Ronaldo shaped up for a free-kick in a central position some 25 yards out, but could only hit his effort into the wall.

Espanyol thought Hernan Perez was through on goal after getting the better of Varane on the edge of the Real Madrid penalty area, but the referee called the substitute back for a handball in the tussle, which looked somewhat harsh.

With 20 minutes left, Bale was given a run-out, replacing Morata, for a return after some 88 days on the sidelines.

The former Spurs star gave the home fans just what they wanted after being released by Isco into the left channel, where he held off Perez’s last-ditch challenge before slotting the ball into the far corner past Diego Lopez from a tight angle after 82 minutes.

In stoppage time, Ronaldo looked to have been bundled down by Aaron Martin as he arrived at the far post, but instead the officials called up incorrectly for a offside.

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