Real Madrid will aim to officially reclaim the La Liga title when they welcome Espanyol to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

The games continue to come thick and fast across Europe as we enter the business end of 2021/22. Matchday 34 in La Liga gets underway this weekend, and Real Madrid could clinch the league title when they play hosts to Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon.

The 2021/22 season has been memorable for Real Madrid, with Los Blancos producing a much-improved performance this term after a tough 2020/21 campaign. The Merengues are destined to reclaim La Liga supremacy, needing only one more point to clinch the title after opening a 15-point lead atop the standings. Carlo Ancelotti’s charges after also in contention to reach the UEFA Champions League final, with their semi-final tie with Manchester City delicately poised.

On the other hand, Espanyol’s return to La Liga has been a happy one, with the Catalan outfit straying clear of the relegation battle. While they are not mathematically safe yet, Vicente Moreno’s men will unlikely get dragged into the drop zone unless something drastic happens. That said, the Periquitos have won only one of their last four games, putting them in a spot of bother.

Espanyol won the reverse fixture 2-1, with Raul de Tomas and Aleix Vidal finding the back of the net, while Karim Benzema scored the consolation goal. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Prediction

Real Madrid

Carlo Ancelotti has a multitude of roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Espanyol. On Saturday, the Real Madrid manager will be bereft of the services of five first-team players due to injuries and suspension.

Defence is the worst-hit area in the squad, with David Alaba recovering from a minor muscle injury. At the same time, Nacho and Eder Militao will serve one-match suspensions. In addition to the central defensive trio, Eden Hazard (ankle) and Luka Jovic (groin) are also on the sidelines due to their respective fitness issues.

In the absence of Alaba, Militao and Nacho, Jesus Vallejo will get a rare chance to impress. The Spanish defender will line up alongside Mario Gila at the heart of the Real Madrid defence, with Marcelo and Lucas Vazquez completing a second-string defensive unit that will protect Thibaut Courtois.

Up ahead in midfield, Casemiro is back in the matchday squad after recovering from his injury. But the Brazilian international will unlikely make the starting eleven, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric also expected to be rested, with Ancelotti keeping one eye on the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg next week.

Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Dani Ceballos will thus form a dynamic central midfield trifecta against Espanyol. Karim Benzema might also get a breather, with Mariano Diaz spearheading the Real Madrid attack, while Rodrygo Goes and Marco Asensio should be the two wide men.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Vazquez, Vallejo, Gila, Marcelo; Valverde, Camavinga, Ceballos; Asensio, Mariano, Rodrygo

Espanyol

Unlike his counterpart in the Real Madrid dugout, Vicente Moreno barely has any roster concerns to contend with ahead of the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu. On Saturda, the Espanyol manager will be without only one first-team player, with Keidi Bare recovering from a knee injury.

Diego Lopez will take his place between the sticks, with Espanyol likely to line up in a 4-3-3 formation that will largely mirror Real Madrid’s system. But the visitors’ three central midfielders will mainly have a defensive outlook, with Espanyol playing on the counter-attack.

Fernando Calero and Leandro Cabrera will pair up at the heart of the Espanyol defence, with Aleix Vidal and Adria Pedrosa being deployed out wide. The two full-backs will carry much of the creative threat against Real Madrid, just as they did in the reverse fixture.

Up ahead in midfield, Manu Morlanes will reprise the anchor role, with Yangel Herrera and Sergi Darder taking up the box-to-box midfield roles. Herrera and Darder will also provide defensive support to Morlanes while looking to transition smoothly from defence to attack.

Finally, Raul De Tomas will spearhead the Espanyol attack against Real Madrid, with Javi Puado and Tonny Vilhena providing support from the flanks. The two wide attackers will look to drift in to allow the full-backs to overlap while putting pressure on a makeshift Real Madrid backline.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Diego Lopez; Vidal, Calero, Cabrera, Pedrosa; Herrera, Morlanes, Darder; Puado, De Tomas, Vilhena

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid lost 1-2 in the reverse fixture this season against Espanyol; only three times previously have the Merengues lost both games in the same La Liga campaign against the Periquitos (1929/30, 1980/81 and 1995/96). But no team in La Liga history has beaten the same opponent more often than Real Madrid against Espanyol (104 wins, with a winning percentage of 60.1%).
  • Real Madrid have lost just one of their last 45 home games against newly-promoted sides (W43 D1), a 0-1 defeat against Cadiz in October 2020, with that coming at the Alfredo Di Stefano at Valdebebas.
  • Espanyol have lost the joint-most points of any side via goals conceded in the last 15 minutes of games this season (11, level with Valencia), while Real Madrid are the only side not to drop any points from goals conceded in this period.
  • Karim Benzema has been involved in 10 goals in his last 10 La Liga games against Espanyol (seven goals and three assists), including a goal and an assist the last time he played against Los Pericos at the Santiago Bernabeu in December 2019.

Player to Watch

Jesus Vallejo

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Since returning from his loan spell at Granada, Jesus Vallejo has endured a season from hell at Real Madrid after falling to the bottom of the pecking order at the Santiago Bernabeu. With Carlo Ancelotti barely rotating his troops, the Spaniard has barely featured for Los Blancos this term.

But with David Alaba, Eder Militao and Nacho unavailable to take on Espanyol, Vallejo will get his golden chance to make an impression. While a positive display will unlikely improve his prospects at the Bernabeu, considering Antonio Rudiger is on the verge of joining Real Madrid, he can attract a big-name suitor with a solid showing.

Prediction

Real Madrid 1-1 Espanyol

With Real Madrid likely to play a largely second-string starting eleven, Espanyol will sense the chance to do a rare double on their illustrious hosts. But Jesus Vallejo and Mario Gila should produce a solid showing in the central defensive unit, keeping Raul De Tomas at bay for the most part on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti might need to call upon the services of Karim Benzema or Vinicius Jr. to get his side to score a goal in the second half, and a keenly-contested affair should end all square. The Hard Tackle predicts Saturday’s game between Real Madrid and Espanyol to end in a 1-1 draw.

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