Preview: Real Madrid vs Espanyol
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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When was the last time anyone saw Real Madrid in their away colors at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium? We don’t know how deep we have to dig to answer that but you can surely witness this on Saturday when Los Blancos won’t literally be ‘Blancos’ against Espanyol. Real Madrid will take on the Catalan side in an early kick-off wearing their mint-green alternate kit as part of their solidarity with the concerns of climate change. This lovely gesture from the home side which practically never compromises their famous white kit at home is a bit overshadowed by Madrid’s growing injury concerns. 

Eden Hazard and Marcelo have been ruled out of the El Clásico which spells disaster already for Real Madrid. In addition to this, Gareth Bale is not likely to feature anytime before the Valencia match. After a brief period of good form and good health, these injuries couldn’t have arrived at a worse time for Zidane’s men.

Real Madrid will try to keep up on points with Barcelona who are in red hot form themselves. The Espanyol game was probably a candidate for Zidane to try out some rotations anyway but now the Frenchman will be forced to do so. 

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Unwanted Slip to Avoid

Espanyol are currently going through one of their worst phases in recent history. They are suffering at the 19th spot of La Liga, crippled with the fears of relegation. Real Madrid got their first defeat in la Liga against newly promoted Mallorca. They must be on their toes to prevent such a failure again as Valencia and Barcelona are already preparing their arsenal for the two huge fixtures in the following weeks. 

A Managerial Block 

Real Madrid have their reasons to be concerned about this Espanyol side despite their poor position in the table. Pablo Machin took charge of Espanyol in October and has managed only three wins so far. But this is the same man who defeated Real Madrid with two different teams – Girona and Sevilla. Machin’s Sevilla handed Lopetegui’s Madrid with one of their worst defeats in recent times during last season. His first win against Real Madrid was in the 2017-18 season when Zidane’s men couldn’t get past a spirited Girona side. 

The Travelling prodigy 

Esteban Granero is returning home, with a different team this time. The Spaniard was brought up in the youth ranks of Real Madrid. He was at Getafe for a couple of seasons, before Mourinho called him back. Granero was a significant part of the youth barrage of Mourinho’s Real Madrid side but perhaps, he never lived up to his full potential. Granero will get to have a go at his former club on Saturday. 

Team News

Real Madrid

Zidane’s 19-man squad for the Espanyol match has significant absentees in the form of Hazard, Marcelo and Bale. James, Lucas, and Asensio are still carrying on their recovery processes. Brahim has found a place in the squad due to the two attackers being injured. Mariano, however, couldn’t make it to the matchday squad. Here’s the full list: 

Courtois, Areola and Altube, Carvajal, Militão, Sergio Ramos, Varane, Odriozola, Mendy, Kroos, Modric, Casemiro, Valverde, Brahim Isco, Benzema, Jović, Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo.

Espanyol

Pablo Machin has named an 18-man squad for the trip to Madrid. Here’s the list:

Prieto, López, Pipa, Pedrosa, Lluis, David, Didac, Bernardo, Calero, Gomez, Darder, Melendo, Roca, Granero, Lozano, Wu Lei, Calleri, Campuzano.

What to Expect 

Real Madrid

There were questions about Isco’s future at the club at the beginning of the summer but Zidane and Isco himself has turned the situation around. Patience is the ultimate key with Zidane and nobody realizes it more than Isco. The Spaniard was suffering from physical problems to begin with but Zidane has called him upon for some crucial games and Isco has repaid the faith brilliantly so far. 

Against Espanyol, the little Spanish magician is expected to play a vital role again. Zidane doesn’t have too many alternatives upfront apart from Jović, so he must have an insurance policy in the middle of the pitch and Isco can provide just that, behind the two strikers.

This game could be a perfect platform for Jović to show that he has skills that Zidane can use in this crunch period of the season when Hazard is injured for some crucial fixtures. Zidane may want to look at Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo as well since the Brazillian duo haven’t featured heavily off-late. Rodrygo has still managed to earn some minutes but Vinicius hasn’t had the same amount of game time recently. 

Espanyol 

Pablo Machin loves to play with three center-halfs and that is not going to change against Real Madrid on Saturday. His previous wins against Real Madrid have come with the 3-5-2 formation. The 3-5-2 formation can be really effective in modern football if it’s executed properly. 

Pablo Machin put this formation to much better effect with his previous teams but no so much with Espanyol so far. His approach is reminiscent of Antonio Conte’s formula with the same formation. 

In the middle of the park, Espanyol has Marc Roca, a rock on the pitch who was even scouted by Real Madrid in the summer. Their main man in charge, Esteban Granero will be the main orchestrator of the Catalan visitors. Calleri and Wu Lei are expected to lead their attack. 

Head to Head

Last 18 meetings

Real Madrid: W15 D2 L1

Espanyol: L15 D2 L1

Machin is tied with Zidane at 1-1 in their last two meetings.

Form 

Real Madrid: W D W W W

Espanyol: L D D L W

Probable Line-ups

Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Jović, Benzema. 

Espanyol: López, David, Bernardo, Calero, Roca, Pipa, Granero, Darder, Pedrosa, Calleri, Wu Lei. 

Players to Watch

Casemiro, Real Madrid

Casemiro is a conundrum for Real Madrid in this game. Los Blancos do not have an alternative for the Brazillian and he is one yellow card away from getting suspended with Valencia and Barcelona in the Horizon.

Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images

Diego López, Espanyol

The former Real Madrid goalkeeper is returning to his face his former club, just like Granero. Can he put up a huge performance to halt Real Madrid?

Photo by Pressinphoto/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Referee

Santiago Jaime Latre will be the match official for this game. 

Key Quotes

“There’s nothing we can do. He’s got four cards and if he gets another one, he’ll be out. I hope he can be on four cards until the end of the season. Surely it won’t happen, but we can’t do anything”- Zinedine Zidane on Casemiro’s yellow cards. 

“Obviously they’re a great side, but it’s also an opportunity for us. There has to be a notable change in the way we play. It’s one of the toughest places to go, but we have to play well.”- Diego López.

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