Real Madrid extended its 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 La Liga 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 it three points ahead of title rival Barcelona, which hosts 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 goalkeeper David Lopez, then forced him 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.
What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico
The rescheduled first Clasico of the season is fast approaching and Madrid looks set to take a good deal of confidence to Camp Nou on December 18.
Zinedine Zidane's men have two games to negotiate before that big test but the head coach will be pleased with how his side has moved on from a middling start to the season.
Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine
Vinicius has struggled for minutes this season but here it was simple to see why Zidane has ruled out a loan move. The winger was vibrant and incisive on the left flank, with a sense of over-eagerness perhaps the only area for improvement.
Marching orders for Mendy
The absence of Marcelo due to a calf strain offered an opportunity to France defender Mendy and he had been perfectly serviceable for over 80 minutes.
That will have made it all the more frustrating for Zidane when his second-choice left-back left a foot in on Victor Gomez for the second time in the space of 20 second-half minutes, earning him a red card and forcing him out of the next match against Valencia.
Madrid concludes its Champions League group stage commitments with a midweek trip to Club Brugge, then visits Valencia on Sunday. Espanyol has a Europa League game at home to CSKA Moscow before next weekend's date with Real Betis.