While Barcelona extended their lead on the top of the table following their 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid have the opportunity to catch up with their city rivals as they host Espanyol on Sunday.

Riddled with injuries and suspensions, Espanyol are the underdogs as they come up against a Real Madrid side that seems to have been revitalized by Zinedine Zidane’s healing touch.

With just one win to show for from their last 9 league encounters, Espanyol are 4 points clear from the drop zone as they prepare to lineup against Real Madrid. The Spanish giants on the other hand are probably still regretting dropping points against Real Betis last week as they look to play catch-up with Barcelona who have established a handsome lead on the top of the La Liga table.

Real Madrid: Merciless At Home

Having replaced Rafael Benitez in the dug-out, Zidane has already stamped his own playing style on the squad as he insists on starting games with a concentrated intensity. Displeased with the squad’s fitness level, the Frenchman has reportedly devised a strategic plan to enhance the squad’s physical abilities with the hope of finishing the season strongly.

Zidane’s playing style involves the retention of possession with the idea to penetrate the opposition’s defence with attacking football. He has emphasized on the importance of Luka Modric who has been integral in the implementation of the manager’s philosophy on the field.

The fact that Espanyol have one of the worst defensive record in the league this season will further incite Real Madrid to play higher up on the pitch. Modric and Kroos will be tasked with the responsibility to dictate the game with James Rodriguez and Isco looking to feed Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in front of the goal.

Zidane looking for his third win since taking over from Benitez

Zidane looking for his third win since taking over from Benitez

With Espanyol missing a string of important players, one can expect to see more of Marcelo and Carvajal higher up the field in an attempt to stretch the opposition’s defence. However, Real Madrid will have to be wary of conceding a goal on the counter as they have on multiple occasions this season.

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Espanyol: Depleted In The Front, Disorganized At The Back

Only three teams have conceded more goals in the league this season than Espanyol. The visitors will be under considerable pressure at the Santiago Bernabeu as they look to hold off a rejuvenated Real Madrid side. The fact that they are missing Marco Asensio (ineligible) and their leading goal-scorer Felipe Caicedo (injury) will further add to their woes with Victor Alvarez and Gerard Moreno suspended for the tie.

Constantin Galca will be banking on midfielders Papakouli Diop, Victor Sanchez and Joan Jordan to prevent Luka Modric and Toni Kroos from dictating the game. With both Carvajal and Marcelo pushing higher up on the pitch, Espanyol will look to break away with speed and precision in a bid to catch Real Madrid on the back foot.

A Cat And Mouse Chase

Real Madrid is likely to dominate the possession with Luka Modric operating in a key role in the midfield. Espanyol on the other hand will look to sit deep and catch Real Madrid by surprise through counter-attacks.

The home team will look to pile on the pressure early on in the game in order to break the deadlock. A Real Madrid goal in the early stages of the first half could open the floodgates with the Spanish giants averaging 3.4 goals in their last five fixtures against Espanyol in recent years.

Key Battles

Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema vs. Pau Lopez

While Adan came to Real Betis’ rescue last week, Pau Lopez is likely to find himself in the thick of things as Madrid look to get back to their winning ways.

Ronaldo scored 5 goals in the reverse fixture earlier this season

Ronaldo scored 5 goals in the reverse fixture earlier this season

Zidane’s team has scored 11 goals in their last three fixtures under their new manager and will be keen to add to their tally as the leading goal-scoring side in the Spanish La Liga. The goalkeeper must be singled out as he will be tested at the Bernabeu by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Modric vs. Diop

Zinedine Zidane has been lavish in his praise for the Croatian midfielder who is likely to play a central role against Espanyol. Always on the lookout for a defence splitting pass, Espanyol will hope to contain Modric along with James Rodriguez and Isco in a bid to negate their influence on the game. Constantin Galca will therefore depend on Papakouli Diop to shore up the team’s defence in the midfield.

Hernan Perez vs. Marcelo

Without the services of Marco Asensio, Felipe Caicedo, Victor Alvarez and Gerard Moreno, Espanyol will depend on Hernan Perez to trouble Real Madrid’s defence at Santiago Bernabeu. The Paraguayan international has scored 5 goals this season and will come up against Marcelo on the right wing in an attempt to exploit the gap left behind by the Brazilian left-back.

Real Madrid: Strengths and Weaknesses

Real Madrid is the leading goal-scoring side in Spain and have in their ranks, some of the world’s finest attacking players. Karim Benzema (17 goals) has been particularly effective in front of the goal and is currently 2 goals behind Luis Suarez in the goal-scoring charts in Spain. Cristiano Ronaldo (16 goals) ranks third in the list along with Neymar.

However, the team is prone to conceding cheap goals and have suffered significantly due to the same reason this season.

Espanyol: Strengths and Weaknesses

Espanyol are suffering from a miserable run of form with a goal difference of -15 in the league this season. Their inability to defend the goal has been their Achilles’ heel as Real Madrid scored 6 goals in the reverse fixture earlier this season. Considering that they have only registered a single win in their last 9 fixtures, it is difficult to extol their strengths as a team at the moment.

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