Real Madrid will be hoping to continue their winning run when they travel to the RCDE Stadium to take on Espanyol on Sunday night.
Matchday 21 of the 2018-19 La Liga season continues this Sunday, with five matches on show. The final game of the day will be played at the RCDE Stadium, with a struggling Espanyol side playing hosts to a resurgent Real Madrid, in a match that will have its fair share of uncertainties.
Espanyol have dropped off the cliff after a strong start to the season, wherein they were once challenging for the European places. But, eight losses in their last nine games have seen Los Periquitos drop out of the top half of the table to 13th spot, and just four points outside the relegation zone.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, are starting to show minor signs of recovery, having taken control of each of their last two games. If the 2-0 win over Sevilla last weekend showed their resilience, the come-from-behind 4-2 success against Girona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final brought out their fighting spirit.
The reverse fixture, played at Santiago Bernabeu in September, saw Real Madrid edge out Espanyol 1-0, courtesy a Marco Asensio strike in the first half. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Rubi does not have many players unavailable ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. While only three first-team players are sidelined with injuries, the fact that all three are centre-backs means that the Espanyol boss has a central defensive crisis on his hands.
Oscar Duarte (hip), David Lopez (hamstring) and Naldo (leg) are all out for the foreseeable future, leaving Mario Hermoso as the only fit centre-back at Rubi’s disposal. Last week, the manager promoted Espanyol B defender Lluis Lopez, who should give Hermoso company at the heart of the defence.
The good news though, is that the other first-choice players are available, meaning Javi Lopez and Didac Vila will complete the back four, which will provide cover to Diego Lopez. In midfield, Marc Roca will occupy the deepest slot, playing the Anchor Man role in front of defence, while Sergi Darder and Esteban Granero should be the two box-to-box midfielders.
Up ahead in attack, the faltering duo of Borja Iglesias and Leo Baptistao ought to start despite their shortcomings lately. On the opposite flank, Pablo Piatti provides a pacy outlet, but needs to step up in front of goal as well.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, Lluis Lopez, Hermoso, Vila; Granero, Roca, Darder; Baptistao, Iglesias, Piatti
The injury woes have eased up considerably for Santiago Solari in recent weeks. Against Espanyol on Sunday, the Real Madrid boss will have just two first-team players remaining on the treatment table, with Keylor Navas (groin) and Jesus Vallejo (thigh) still a few weeks away from returning to action.
Marco Asensio (thigh), Mariano Diaz (back) and Gareth Bale (calf) have all returned to training, but the game is likely to have come too soon for the trio. For Sunday, however, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Jr. ought to be enough to outclass Espanyol, with Karim Benzema leading the line for Real Madrid.
The midfield unit should see Toni Kroos and Marcos Llorente return to action, as part of the starting lineup, with Luka Modric retaining his place in the side. At the back, the new first-choice defensive unit should start, with Sergio Reguilon replacing Marcelo on the left side, while Dani Carvajal should return on the opposite flank.
Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are expected to form the central defensive partnership, with Thibaut Courtois continuing as the man in goal for Real Madrid.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Reguilon; Modric, Llorente, Kroos; Lucas Vazquez, Benzema, Vinicius
- Real Madrid boast a formidable recent record against Espanyol, having won 12 of their last 13 meeting with Los Periquitos.
- The only time Los Blancos failed to win was in the corresponding fixture last season, with Espanyol securing a 1-0 win.
- Espanyol’s recent form is horrendous, with Rubi’s charges losing eight of their last nine games in La Liga.
- Real Madrid have struggled to perform at their best on the road, having managed to win just four of 10 away leagues games this season.
- Borja Iglesias is the only Espanyol player to reach double figures for goals scored this season – the next best tally is two goals (six players).
Player to Watch
Rubi has got a central defensive crisis on his hands, with Mario Hermoso the only recognised centre-back at his disposal. Therefore, the 23-year-old will have the onus on him to guide the promoted Lluis Lopez at the heart of the Espanyol defence on Sunday.
In effect, Hermoso can also impress Real Madrid, who have reportedly been monitoring his progress all season. The immediate objective for the player though, will be to bring back Los Blancos‘ frustrations in what needs to be a colossal performance in defence, if Espanyol are to take anything from the game.
Espanyol 0-2 Real Madrid
It looks like a switch has been turned off for Espanyol, who are looking nothing like the side that was in and around the top four places just a couple of months ago. And so, it becomes the worst time for Rubi’s men to face off against Real Madrid, who are slowly starting to return to their best form.
Los Blancos were quite impressive in their 4-2 win over Girona earlier this week, and another such performance could be in the offing. Espanyol though, might not be as porous, even if they are bound to struggle against Santiago Solari & co.
Indeed, the visitors should be too strong for Espanyol on Sunday, and The Hard Tackle predicts a comfortable 2-0 win for Real Madrid.