Real Madrid will aim to consolidate their place atop the La Liga standings when they take on Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium on Sunday.

The international break is not too far away but there is plenty of action in club football on Sunday before then. In La Liga, pre-matchday toppers Real Madrid will take the field on the day, as Espanyol play hosts to them at the RCDE Stadium.

Espanyol have made a decent enough start to life back in La Liga, managing six points in seven league games so far. Vicente Moreno’s men have managed to win just one game so far, but have proven to be frugal at the back, conceding just seven goals so far. All that has meant that the hosts could well be eyeing a lower midtable finish this term.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, have been largely solid early in the 2021/22 campaign, which has helped them climb to the top of the standings. Los Blancos are one of just three remaining teams in La Liga that have not been beaten yet, winning five of their opening seven games, while playing out a draw in the other two fixtures.

Real Madrid eked out a narrow 1-0 win the last time they were hosted at the RCDE Stadium by Espanyol in La Liga, back in the 2019/20 season. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Espanyol

Vicente Moreno has a number of fitness issues hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Sunday, the Espanyol manager will likely be bereft of the services of four first-team players.

Fernando Calero (muscle injury), Miguelon (match fitness), Yangel Herrera (leg) and Javi Puado (muscle injury) are all on the sidelines and will play no part against Real Madrid. Moreno has lined his side up in variations of the 4-3-3 formation and ought to employ a similar system on Sunday.

Diego Lopez will likely take his place in goal for Espanyol and in front of him, the back four ought to feature Oscar Gil, Adria Pedrosa, Leandro Cabrera and Sergio Gomez. Cabrera and Gomez will form the central defensive partnership while Gil and Pedrosa will be the two full-backs.

Up ahead in midfield, the onus will be on captain David Lopez and Sergi Darder to keep things tight in the middle of the park and keep a check on Real Madrid’s creative players. Manu Morlanes will be the third man in midfield, with the 22-year-old providing the forward thrust for Espanyol.

Finally, in attack, Aleix Vidal will occupy the right wing slot, moving higher up the pitch owing to the presence of Gil in the backline. Raul De Tomas will lead the line for Espanyol against former club Real Madrid, with Adrian Embarba completing the unit in the final third for the hosts.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Diego Lopez; Gil, Cabrera, Gomez, Pedrosa; Darder, David Lopez, Morlanes; Vidal, De Tomas, Embarba

Real Madrid

Like his counterpart in the Espanyol dugout, Carlo Ancelotti will have to make do without four first-team players. However, the Real Madrid manager has been getting some key players back at his disposal, with the latest being Toni Kroos.

Marcelo (leg), Dani Carvajal (calf), Dani Ceballos (ankle) and Gareth Bale (hamstring) are the players who miss out for Real Madrid. However, as iterated earlier, Kroos is back and ought to secure a place in the starting lineup.

Kroos will take his place in the three-man midfield unit, with Casemiro sitting at the base of the midfield trifecta. Federico Valverde will be the third man in the middle of the park, with the Uruguayan international being the workhorse in midfield. Luka Modric and Eduardo Camavinga will, therefore, be backup options for the visitors.

Up ahead in attack, Karim Benzema will once again lead the line for Real Madrid against Espanyol. Flanking the Merengues’ talisman ought to be Brazilian pair Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Jr. with Eden Hazard missing out after an underwhelming display in the shock defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol.

Lucas Vazquez will, meanwhile, occupy the right-back slot for Real Madrid, meaning Nacho could be drafted on the opposite flank, leaving Miguel Gutierrez on the bench. Eder Militao and David Alaba will once again pair up at the heart of the Real Madrid defence, with Thibaut Courtois a certainty in goal.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Militao, Alaba, Nacho; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius, Benzema, Rodrygo

Key Stats

  • Espanyol have suffered 104 defeats in their 172 meetings with Real Madrid in La Liga (W35 D33), the most of any side against a single opponent in the competition’s history.
  • Real Madrid have won 20 of their last 23 La Liga games against Espanyol (D2 L1), scoring 61 goals in this run and keeping a clean sheet in 17 of those outings.
  • Real Madrid have beaten Espanyol on nine of their 11 visits to the RCDE Stadium in La Liga (D1 L1), making them the team to defeat the hosts the most times at their new ground in the competition.
  • Following their 1-0 win over Alaves, Espaynol could record back-to-back home wins in La Liga for the first time since May 2019.
  • Real Madrid have not lost any of their last 18 away matches in La Liga (W12 D6) and, should they not lose, they will record their best unbeaten run on the road in the competition’s history.

Player to Watch

Toni Kroos

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2021/22 has been proving to be a difficult season for Toni Kroos, who has been hampered early in the campaign by a groin injury. Now finally back at Carlo Ancelotti’s disposal, the German playmaker’s return comes at the perfect time, with Real Madrid in need of an injection of creativity.

While Luka Modric continues to go strong, it is clear that age is starting to catch up to the veteran Croat. So, the return of Kroos is just what Modric would have needed to take some of the burden off of him. On a personal level too, the experienced midfielder will be hoping to get going and kick-start his campaign at long last. A big game beckons Kroos.

Prediction

Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid

In the wake of Sheriff Tiraspol’s shock win earlier this week, Espanyol will reckon Real Madrid are there for the taking. The Merengues do appear to have a soft underbelly, which the hosts will aim to pounce on, thereby setting up an intriguing fixture for Sunday.

However, this should be one of those games wherein Los Blancos will tighten the screws, while the returning Toni Kroos will help provide better control from midfield. In the end, there should be just one goal separating the two sides, with Karim Benzema once again making the difference for Real Madrid in a 1-0 win.

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