"It was a nice assist but the goal was more important, Casemiro did well and got us three important points after a very hard game". The run-in seems tougher for defending champion Barcelona, which faces third-place Atletico Madrid on Tuesday at Camp Nou. "We're used to the quality he brings to his play and I had to celebrate it with him because it was all down to him", Casemiro said.
"I assume this just one is, Karim's", the Frenchman told reporters just after the match.
"It would be a bit unfair to chat about my goal right after what Karim did", he advised reporters.
"But I know that when we lose the press will be out, the knives will be out, that won't change".
But solidity and steel ensured they came through unscathed and it was no surprise that defensive midfielder Casemiro, arguably the team's best player this term, was named man of the match.
The win saw Real climbing up to 71 points, with six fixtures left.
Casemiro was Real's most unsafe player and almost opened the scoring early on with a wild shot from his own half which forced Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez to scramble back towards his line and push the ball away.
Rufete, who was previously the club's sporting director, is Espanyol's fourth coach of the season after the sacking of Abelardo Fernandez on Saturday.
When asked to compare Benzema's layoff with Guti's other two famous backheeled assists - one for Benzema to drive easily into an open net in the game against Deportivo La Coruna in 2010, the other for Zidane to score against Sevilla in 2006 - Zidane called Benzema's effort superior as it was more of a team goal.
Chances were at a premium in the second period but Real maintained a measure of control, securing their fifth-consecutive victory since the restart as they capitalised on Barcelona'sdraw at Celta Vigo to return to the summit of La Liga with six games to play.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane admitted that he isn't too far from retirement as he revealed the pressure of the job has taken its toll.
Levante also beat Real Betis 4-2.
The 35-year-old found himself under a 60-yard punt from his goalkeeper before cushioning the ball out of the air perfectly for Gerard Moreno to volley in.
Casemiro'sresulting goal and some flawless defending were all Madrid needed to win and move ahead of Barcelona by two points at the top of the table. Casemiro, who scored the winning goal, explained: "That's three more points we've got, another final we've won and we're going for LaLiga".
Napoli made it five games unbeaten in Serie A to stay sixth after a 3-1 home win against bottom club Spal.
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