MADRID: 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.