RCD ESPANYOL

v

REAL MADRID CF

Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, Barcelona
October 3, 2011; 0130 IST

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After clinching a deserving victory against Ajax at home, Los Galacticos travel to the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, Barcelona to take on Espanyol. Real Madrid have lost the chance to open up a healthy lead at the top after their recent disappointing results and more importantly performances against Levante and Getafe. They lacked character on the field and were boring to watch but Mourinho stemmed the rot as Madrid ran riot against Rayo Vallecano and then ensured that Ajax took a master class in counter-attacking before they returned to Netherlands.

Mauricio Pochettino has been at the helm of the Barcelona club since 2008. He arrived when the club were stuck in a relegation battle and thanks to his inventive and judicious management and more importantly his emphasis on the club’s academy, Espanyol have flourished beyond belief. They have a decent number of academy products in their first team and a coach that pushes them harder and gets the best out of them. Jose Callejon would definitely know a thing or two about Pochettino’s ability and his drive to succeed.

Espanyol have played five matches so far in the season and won two – both their victories have come at home. Espanyol are incredible playing at home and survived in the league last year thanks to an impressive home record. They would surely make things complicated for Real Madrid at Cornellà-El Prat.

Last season, Real Madrid emerged winners both the times the two teams met in the league with the second game at Barcelona being a very tight affair. Iker Casillas was sent off in the second minute for a foul on Callejon and Real Madrid played the entire match with 10 men and ground out a 0-1 victory against their opponents who had around 70% of possession. Jose Mourinho will be hoping to avoid such incidents and take the maximum points to keep pace with the more illustrious Barcelona team.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Espanyol

The new season has started on a not very impressive but usual way for Blanquiblaus winning all their home games and losing all away games played so far. they have lost some of their players last year such as Callejon, Osvaldo,De La Peña and David García.  Another forward, Luis Garcia has also made his move to Real Zaragoza.

One of the biggest changes Espanyol has undergone so far is in the goal keeping department. Kameni was the undisputed started for the club last year but now he seems to be replaced by Cristian Alvarez. Alvarez has been decent for them so far pulling off 14 saves in the five games played including one clean sheet.

The midfield will be lead by the ever reliable Verdu and Espanyol will be hoping that he can pull the strings in the midfield. Pochettino prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 and the sole striker will be Sergio Garcia. Garcia has been in fine form and already scored a couple of goals and will like add at least a goal to his tally. And if they need more fire power, they have Pandiani and Alvaro Vasquez to come off the bench. It’s a decent strike force.

The striking thing about Pochettino is his insistence on fast paced, pressing football. Espanyol, under him, has always looked to play football by going hard at the opponents rather than sit back and defend. This could prove to be a double edged sword for the Catalans as Real Madrid can punish for the slightest mistakes but this tactic reflects the side’s ambition to score goals by putting pressure on the opponents rather than soak the pressure.

Espanyol need to close down spaces and ensure that they make Madrid play narrow. If Madrid use the full width of the pitch, it could prove to disastrous for the home team.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):  Cristian Alvarez; Amat, Forlin, Moreno, Didac; Lopez,Marquez; Baena, Verdu, Thievy; Sergio Garcia

Real Madrid

Real Madrid have not looked at their very best since the match against Dinamo. They went ­through a alarming phase against Levante and Racing but they arrested the slide by beating Rayo comfortably. The game against Ajax produced some great moments but Los Blancos were never really in control of the match. In the second half, Madrid let Ajax take possession and slowed down the tempo of the game.

The biggest positive from the Rayo and Ajax games was the performance of the French youngster, Raphael Varane in the heart of the defense. He has been mighty impressive in the absence of Pepe and looks to have moved ahead of Raul Albiol in the pecking order. With Pepe still injured, the Frenchman will start again with the experienced Carvalho beside him.

Ramos and Marcelo will be usual accomplices in defense while Xabi Alonso will lead the midfield. Sami Khedira has been a terrific alongside Alonso, providing the necessary solidity in defense and breaking down promising attacks. Di Maria is suspended for the game which means that Mourinho will start again with Ozil on the flanks.

Kaka has been immense in the last couple of games showing the world glimpses of the old Kaka. The Brazilian is expected to retain his starting spot and will play the primary play maker. Ronaldo will start on the left. Benzema injured himself against Ajax and is expected to give way for Higuain.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1):  Casillas;Ramos,Varane,Carvalho,Marcelo; Khedira,Xabi; Ozil,Kaka, Ronaldo; Higuain

TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out

Gonzalo Higuain

Can he make the Real statement?

The Argentine has not looked the deadly striker he was after his surgery last year and is playing the role of the secondary striker to Karim Benzema. Even with the limited opportunities, Higuain has done very less to command a starting place instead of Benzema. With Benzema in doubt, this provides a golden chance for Pipita to make a strong statement.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

 Espanyol 1 – 2 Real Madrid

Espanyol, especially at the Cornella El-Prat are a dangerous opponent. But, Mourinho knows that he cannot afford any more slip-ups in the campaign and Real Madrid will come out all guns blazing.

Blast from the Past

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV5VdBdam6s&feature=related