Real Madrid will be aiming to move to the top of the La Liga standings when they face off against relegation battlers RCD Espanyol at home on Saturday afternoon.

Real Madrid will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches across all competitions when they welcome a struggling Espanyol side to the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend in Matchweek 16 of the 2019-20 La Liga.

Real Madrid currently sit second in the La Liga standings, level on points with leaders and arch rivals Barcelona. Zinedine Zidane’s side haven’t lost a single game since their shock 1-0 defeat to Mallorca back in October, with their most recent fixture ending in a 2-1 win against Alaves. They will want to carry the momentum and claim the top spot with a victory on Saturday.

Espanyol, on the other hand, find themselves second from bottom in the table, after having finished in the Europa League qualifying places last season. The Periquitos are without a win in their last five La Liga clashes, with their most recent outing ending in a 4-2 hammering at the hands of Osasuna. A trip to the Bernabeu at this point will be a daunting prospect for Pablo Machin and his men.

Ahead of this clash between two sides at the opposite ends of the table, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

Bale and Marcelo are ruled out for Real Madrid (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

Bale and Marcelo are ruled out for Real Madrid (Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

Real Madrid will be without seasoned defender Marcelo and wantaway star Gareth Bale for the weekend clash, while Eden Hazard, Lucas Vazquez, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio also remain sidelined. Raphael Varane is back in the squad after missing the last game.

Zidane could make a few alterations to the side that started against Alaves last weekend. Starting in goal, Thibaut Courtois is expected to return to the side, replacing Alphonse Areola, who featured in the last fixture. Dani Carvajal, who was on the scoresheet last week, ought to continue at right-back, while Marcelo’s injury means Ferland Mendy should come in at left-back.

Sergio Ramos is a guaranteed starter at the heart of the Real Madrid defence, but despite Varane’s return, Zidane could opt to stick with Eder Militao as his partner, after the Brazilian’s exceptional performance against Alaves last weekend.

Casemiro, who is on four yellow cards, will form the defensive shield in the middle of the park for Real Madrid, while German pass master Toni Kroos is a guaranteed starter. Luka Modric, though, could make way for the ever-impressive Federico Valverde on Saturday noon.

Bale’s injury means Rodrygo Goes should come into the lineup in Real Madrid’s frontline, with the Brazilian slotting in on the left, while Isco moves to the right flank. Karim Benzema will continue to spearhead the attack for Los Blancos.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Ramos, Mendy; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco, Benzema, Rodrygo

Espanyol

Espanyol will have to make do without midfielder Victor Sanchez, who is out of the game due to suspension, while Pablo Piatti also misses out. Captain Javi Lopez, Matias Vargas, Facundo Ferreyra and Naldo remain sidelined with injuries for Pablo Machin’s side, with the Espanyol boss calling up former Real Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero to the travelling squad.

Espanyol are unlikely to change their formation on Saturday, meaning they will face Zidane’s side with a three-man backline comprising of David Lopez, Bernardo Espinosa and Fernando Calero. They will be shielding former Real Madrid man Diego Lopez, who could be in for a busy afternoon in goal.

21-year-old Adria Pedrosa should be retained as the left-back, but teenager Victor Gomez could to pip Pipa for a starting berth on the opposite flank. Marc Roca will be the defensive midfielder tasked with breaking up play in the middle, with support coming from Granero, who will want to impress on his return to the Bernabeu.

Sergi Darder ought to occupy the third midfield slot and look to provide some support to the attacking duo of Wu Lei and Jonathan Calleri, who scored in the defeat against Osasuna after coming on as a substitute.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Diego Lopez; David Lopez, Espinosa, Calero; Gomez, Darder, Roca, Granero, Pedrosa; Wu, Calleri

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have won 102 La Liga games against Espanyol (D33 L35). No other team has won more times against a single opponent in La Liga history.
  • Espanyol have just earned nine points in their 15 La Liga games this season, their joint-second worst tally (also in 1945-46 and 1991-92 counting three points per win) in their La Liga history after the 2003-04 season (8).
  • Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last 23 home La Liga games against Espanyol (W20 D3) since losing 1-2 in April 1996.
  • None of the players in the Real Madrid squad was born the last time Espanyol kept a clean sheet in La Liga at Santiago Bernabeu – 0-0 in December 1978 (P39 W31 D6 L2).
  • Real Madrid have just lost one of their last 22 games in La Liga at Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane (W17 D4), scoring three goals per game on average.

Player to Watch

Karim Benzema

Real Madrid's go-to man (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Real Madrid’s go-to man (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

The 31-year-old marksman is leading the goalscoring charts for the season in La Liga, having bagged 10 goals from 13 matches, while he also providing four assists to go along with. Benzema has been the man Real Madrid have looked up to when things haven’t been going their way this season and he will once again be their chief threat on Saturday.

Benzema boasts a solid recent record against Espanyol, having bagged five goals in his last six La Liga appearances against the Periquitos, including a brace in their last meeting earlier this year in January. He will be hoping to carry on in the same vein of form this weekend and fire Real Madrid to another victory.

Prediction

Real Madrid 3-1 Espanyol

Espanyol have been struggling to get positive results for a while now, with the Catalan outfit failing to win in their last four matches across all competitions. And going up against a Real Madrid side, who seem to have hit their stride, in their own backyard will be a difficult proposition for Machin’s men. We at The Hard Tackle are predicting a straightforward win for Zidane & co. on Saturday.

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