Real Madrid will be looking to go two points clear of Barcelona as they travel to Catalonia to face off against RCD Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium.
Real Madrid have the opportunity to build a two-point lead on rivals Barcelona in the race for the La Liga title when they travel to Barcelona to lock horns with the second-best team from the city – and by some distance – RCD Espanyol.
Los Blancos and Barcelona have been in locked in a fight for the top spot throughout the campaign, with the former edging the latter after the restart. While Madrid entered the weekend as the leaders, Barcelona moved to the top even though they dropped points against Celta Vigo with the game ending in a 2-2 draw. Madrid have now been gifted this opportunity to reclaim pole position.
Their impressive performances and results recently stem from a blossoming partnership between Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema that has been winning games for them since football resumed. Their last game ended in a 2-0 win for them against RCD Mallorca with goals from Vinicius Junior and Sergio Ramos.
It has not been a bed of roses for Espanyol, though. Far from it really, as they sit on the opposite end of the table – 20th – with a mere 24 points. A win, however improbable, would lift them from rock bottom to 18th after their rivals in the relegation race Leganes and Mallorca both dropped points on Saturday. To add to their troubles, the Blanquiazules sacked head coach Abelardo Fernandez today, replacing him with Sporting Director Francisco Rufete till the season comes to a close.
— RCD Espanyol de Barcelona (@RCDEspanyol) June 27, 2020
Espanyol’s last outing came against Real Betis which ended in a 1-0 loss for them with former Barca centre-back Marc Bartra scoring the sole goal of the game. Their reverse fixture against Madrid ended in defeat as well, courtesy of two unanswered goals from Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at this fixture.
Tactics & Team News
Espanyol have nearly a 100% fit squad ahead of their game against Real Madrid, with the exceptions of first-choice left-back Didac Vila and second-choice right-back Sebastian Corchia.
It remains to be seen what formation Francisco Rufete set his team up in, but the 4-4-2 that has been used in the last two matches could be employed. La Liga veteran Diego Lopez will take charge of the six-yard-box with the gloves. The Spanish goalkeeper turns 39 this November, and this could very well be his last season as a professional footballer.
Javi Lopez and Adria Pedrosa are expected to provide width from the full-back positions with Bernardo Espinosa and Leandro Cabrera starting at the heart of the defence. Naldo is in contention to start as well after putting in a brilliant shift against Real Betis in midweek.
Wu Lei and Sergi Darder are expected to start in wide roles in the four-man midfield on the right and left respectively. They will be flanking the double pivot of Marc Roca and captain David Lopez. Roca has been Espanyol’s standout performer so far this season, and has been linked with a move away to Arsenal among other clubs.
Jonathan Calleri and the brilliant Raul de Tomas will form the strike partnership up front. Raul has scored the most goals for Espanyol this season alongside Lei with four goals apiece.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Lopez; Javi, Cabrera, Espinosa, Pedrosa; Lei, David, Roca, Darder; Calleri, Raul
Zinedine Zidane will be with a lot of absentees for Sunday’s game, but having an incredible squad depth will help his cause. Lucas Vasquez, Luka Jovic and Nacho Hernandez will miss the game due to injuries while Luka Modric and Ferland Mendy will not travel due to the suspensions.
Karim Benzema will look to build on his incredible form this season with another start tomorrow. He will be aided by Eden Hazard on the left and Vinicius Junior on the right. Gareth Bale, Isco and Marco Asensio are all contenders for a spot on the wing but are likely to miss out.
Casemiro returns to the starting lineup after serving his suspension against Mallorca and will start as the deepest midfielder in the trio, with Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde arching him on the left and right respectively. Casemiro has arguably been Madrid’s best player this season, building on his incredible campaign from last year.
With Mendy absent, Marcelo will most certainly start as the left-back for Real Madrid, partnering Dani Carvajal who will play on the right. Sergio Ramos will retain his place in the XI after a brilliant performance against Mallorca which included a sublime free-kick. He will be playing alongside Raphael Varane. Thibaut Courtois will hold the fort between posts and will look to add to his incredible 14 clean sheets this season.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius, Benzema, Hazard
- RCD Espanyol have won only one of their last 10 games against Real Madrid, a 1-0 win in February, 2018. Madrid have won the remaining 9.
- Real Madrid have managed to score 30 goals against Espanyol in the last 10 games, conceding only three.
- Los Blancos have kept 8 clean sheets in their last 10 meetings against Espanyol, while Espanyol have only managed one.
- Madrid have picked up a red card in both of their last two meetings against Espanyol – Ferland Mendy in December 2019 and Raphael Varane in January 2019.
- Karim Benzema leads the charts for Real Madrid in both categories – goals and assists, with 17 and 6 respectively. These stats are the second-highest in terms of direct goal contributions in La Liga, 15 shy off Lionel Messi’s 38.
Player to Watch
Life in Spain did not start off particularly well for Eden Hazard, who arrived at Real Madrid overweight and a bit out of touch. He also suffered from consecutive injuries as the season wore on, but has finally returned to his best now and developed a partnership to watch out for with Karim Benzema.
The duo create havoc on the left side for Madrid, switching positions and complement each other with flicks, and somehow always manage to find the other in space. It reeks of Lionel Messi’s connection with Neymar Jr, something Cristiano Ronaldo did not have with any player in the Spanish capital, maybe barring Marcelo. Hazard is at nearly at his best now, and it will be difficult to for Espanyol to stop him on Sunday.
Espanyol 0-3 Real Madrid
Everything about this fixture suggests a dominant Real Madrid performance resulting in an easy win. They will be extra motivated as they go into this tie knowing that they can create a 2-point lead over Barcelona. Moreover, Espanyol’s record this season and against Madrid in the top flight only tells us they will not have an easy outing.
Add the sacking of Abelardo Fernandez as the cherry on top of this vanilla cake, and you, too, will be able to see a 3-0 victory for Madrid with Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard running riot.