Vinícius Júnior sparked Real Madrid’s 3-1 comeback over Espanyol in the Spanish league on Saturday, keeping Barcelona within reach in the title race before the rivals meet next weekend.
Joselu Mato put Espanyol ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu in the eighth minute. But Vinícius equalized in the 22nd before Éder Militão headed Madrid in front for good in the 39th.
Substitute Marco Asensio added a third goal in stoppage time as Madrid ended a three-game winless run between the league and the Copa del Rey.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team reduced Barcelona’s lead to six points before the front-runners visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Karim Benzema missed the game as he rested to recover from an ankle problem. Before the game, Ancelotti said that he expects his striker to be ready to face Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Madrid holding a 5-2 advantage from the first leg of the round of 16.
Madrid will then visit Barcelona on March 19 in a “clásico” that will likely weigh heavily in the title fight.
“We were coming from a run of poor results and this gives us confidence for the tough week ahead,” said Madrid defender Nacho Fernández, who set up Asensio's goal. “This was an important win because we know we have the head-to-head matchup (with Barcelona) next weekend.”
Espanyol, which was left in 13th place, took the lead when Joselu scored with a fine touch of his left boot.
Espanyol's José Gragera tackled Aurélien Tchouaméni in midfield to start the counterattack. Rubén Sánchez deftly controlled a long ball with his chest to breeze past Eduardo Camavinga, and Joselu volleyed his cross into the top corner of Thibaut Courtois’ net.
Joselu’s goal made him the league’s second-leading scorer with 12 goals. Only Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski has scored more with 15.
The modest squad from Barcelona even grazed a second goal when Vinícius de Souza tested Courtois with a point-blank header.
But when Madrid’s Vinícius got going, Madrid never gave Espanyol much of a chance to pull off the upset.
The Brazil forward looked hemmed in by Espanyol when he received the ball on the left side of the area. But a quick change of direction toward the center opened up just enough of a window for him to thread a shot between four defenders before it hit the post and found the net.
It was Vinícius’ eighth goal in the league and 19th overall, giving him one more than Benzema this season.
Madrid pressed its advantage and it was only a matter of time before Espanyol gave way again.
Espanyol’s defenders were scrambling after a ball that Madrid quickly worked around its area before Militão jumped over his marker at the near post to head in a short cross by Tchouaméni.
Diego Martínez sent on extra attackers for Espanyol in the second half, but it was Madrid that went closest to another goal when Rodrygo struck a free kick off the crossbar in the 75th.
“We were in the match until the final minutes,” Joselu said. “We gave it all we had, but Real Madrid shows no mercy.”