Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
December 16, 2012; 18:00 GMT
With the entire Spain buzzing about the clash of Atletico Madrid against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid welcome the other Catalan team to their home.
After a disastrous defeat to Celta Vigo in their mid-week Copa del Rey fixture, the La Liga champions are truly in a spot of bother. Neither of the campaigns is working as expected and with losses adding up, voices of dissent against Mourinho are gathering momentum. Jose Mourinho was emphatic in criticizing the woeful performance of his team, not for the first time this season, and appears to be losing his charm over the players. The club needs cannot afford another bad result before Christmas and further aggravate the situation in the capital.
Espanyol are another team struggling to get their season on track. After a woeful start to their league campaign, the Catalan club sacked Mauricio Pochettino, their coach of four years to make way for Javier Aguirre. The contribution of Pochettino to Espanyol is often undermined as he has revived the club in more ways than one. Taking over in a very precarious financial situation, he put together a team of players harvested from their youth academy and cheap signings but still got the results the club desired. For a while, their football was wonderful to watch and Pochettino could do nothing wrong. Until this year. For some time, when he was weaving his magic with Espanyol, he was even linked to Real Madrid.
Espanyol are last in the league table with 11 points and after the taking over of Aguirre, they have managed draws in the couple of league games played.
Team News and Tactics
In addition to a crumbling team, Jose Mourinho has injuries to his star players to worry about. He has now lost both his best strikers to injuries and Raphael Varane has occupied the place beside Marcelo in the doctor’s clinic. And his remaining team has played some dull, unimaginative football all season which remains a constant worry.
Alvaro Arbeloa had a disastrous game against Celta but Mourinho has no replacement for him at right-back except Nacho, who has no clue what else he needs to do to claim a place in the starting XI. The news of Fabio Coentrao’s return will be music to the coach’s ears as he will settle down in his usual left-back role alongside Pepe and Sergio Ramos in central defence.
Xabi Alonso, the orchestrator of his brilliant team last season has seen his influence wane over the course of the season. His form has dipped and his no longer has control over the strings pulling his team which is disturbing considering that the team has no one who can replicate his role. Sami Khedira, the usual accomplice will take his place beside the Spanish midfield maestro.
The injury to Benzema means that Cristiano Ronaldo will head the attack and will play as the striker. But in a shocking development, the Frenchman has been included in the squad after Mourinho clearly mentioned in his press conference that he will be unavailable. Angel Di Maria’s form has nose-dived and with Callejon putting in decent shifts on the wing, Mourinho may be tempted to play Callejon and Mesut Ozil on the wings. Luka Modric seems to be finally adapting to Mourinho’s methods and could be employed as the primary play-maker.
While there are calls for Alvaro Morata to start this game, the Portuguese appears not to trust the La Fabrica as yet and he may be confined to the bench. Espanyol, under Aguirre, have started slow and will be expected to sit deep and defend considering they are playing at Madrid’s home.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Casillas(GK); Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Modric, Ozil, Callejon; Ronaldo
For the Catalan club, Rui Fonte and captain Cristian Álvarez will miss this game because of injuries. Javier Aguirre will pretty much have his best team except his first choice goal keeper, Alvarez, at his disposal against Real Madrid. Espanyol also have had their defensive problems conceding more goals than scored which explains their place in the league table. Colotto and Hector Moreno will be assigned the task of keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet as much as possible.
Espanyol have their best players playing in the central midfield – one defensive and one offensive. While La Masia graduate, Verdu has been their best player so far this season, Forlin is also an important cog in Espanyol’s wheel.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Casilla(GK); J.Lopez, Colotto, Moreno, Alvarez; Sanchez, Forlin; Simao, Verdu, Wakaso; Garcia
Player To Watch Out
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
On a weekend where the spotlight will be on Radamel Falcao and Lionel Messi, the Portuguese will have the added burden of leading his team in the absence of a proper striker. In spite of his team putting in dull performances, Ronaldo has remained unaffected and has rescued the team more than once this season.
Real Madrid 2 – 0 Espanyol
With the match being played at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid will have their tails up and will probably clinch a positive result against a struggling Espanyol.