This weekend, Los Merengues take on Barcelona-based Espanyol is a very interesting tie. With a decent run of form, Espanyol pose a threat for a Madrid side that have been getting results without looking spectacular. Add in a tough 3-1 home win against SSC Napoli on Tuesday, too, and it would be easy to see why the legs might feel a little heavy for the home side in what is an important tie in the title race.
Madrid are 1-point clear at the top of La Liga, with two games in hand over FC Barcelona. Espanyol know that a win makes it easier for their eternal rivals to get back into the title race, but they have European ambitions – and a strong dislike of Real Madrid – of their own. They come into the game without one of their best players, though, in the electric Pablo Piatti. He’s a major doubt with a skull fracture, as is Marc Navarro.
This means we might see the return of Oscar Duarte to the side in at centre-half, while Diego Reyes could move out to right full-back if needed. Marc Roca should probably move into the midfield to deputise for the unimpressive Jose Antonio Reyes or Javi Fuego. With a selection dilemma to deal with, then, Espanyol will need to be at their best man-for-man to make this work.
The home side, though, have won 11 of their last 13 league matches and arrive here with their chests firmly pushed out. Toni Kroos is back in the team most likely, with the likelihood being that young Mateo Kovacic will drop back to the bench. Lucas Vasquez is likely to come in against his old team, too, rather than the unimpressive James Rodriguez. The Colombian looks a shadow of his former self at present, and it would be likely to see him removed from the home teams line-up.
Sergio Ramos should make it even after coming off against Napoli, and provides a bit of solidity to the back for Madrid. If he cannot make it, then Pepe will likely step in to deputise.
Madrid should be worried by the fact that, with just one clean sheet in seven, they are lacking at the back regadless of who plays. 1 loss in 24 home games, though, should be enough to soothe any nagging worries or lack of confidence in the home dressing room.
Espanyol, meanwhile, are on a decent run of form themselves but they do struggle away from home quite a lot. This would be the kind of game that Madrid need to win if they want the league crown back, though, so we would be shocked if they don’t come out of this with a positive result. A win for Madrid seems the most likely outcome – but only just. 2-1 Madrid.