What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Real Madrid vs Espanyol
When: Sunday 16th December, 2012, at 18:00 UK time
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain

Bad Times

Just when Real Madrid seemed to have found the light, their season suffered another setback that sent the club into despair. Having tasted a 2-1 defeat against Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey in midweek, Los Blancos need to quickly get their act together as they prepare to welcome Espanyol to the Bernabeu in La Liga, knowing that any slip-up will surely be fatal as they trail Barcelona by eleven points.

On a water-drenched pitched that already displayed sub-standard conditions of play, Real Madrid were unable to defeat their Galician visitors in the Copa del Rey. Had it not been for Cristiano Ronaldo’s late goal, things would have been much harder in the second leg. Still, Real Madrid will fancy their chances of qualifying when they meet Celta Vigo again, this time at home.

On the team front, manager Jose Mourinho will be worried as Karim Benzema was substituted prematurely after picking up a knock in the cup game. With Gonzalo Higuain already sidelined, the Portuguese tactician might opt to play Ronaldo as the team’s striker against Espanyol. Jose Callejon may also be given another chance to impress.

Looking for a Surprise

It will be natural for Espanyol to look to pounce at Real Madrid when the reigning champions look in a weak position following another loss. But. travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu with just one win on the road so far this season, Los Periquitos will need to dig deep in order to come back home with a result, which may allow the side to exit the relegation zone.

Recent history does not favour Espanyol against Real Madrid, as the Barcelona-based side have failed to score in their last three visits to the Bernabeu. Javier Aguirre’s team know that they must perform well against Los Blancos, as tough games await them in the following days against fellow strugglers Deportivo La Coruna and league leaders Barcelona.

However, Aguirre, who succeeded Mauricio Pochettino as coach, has coaxed fighting spirit out of the side, with Espanyol now unbeaten in their last two games, albeit with both ending as draws.

Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Madrid 4-1 Ajax (04/12; Champions League)
Real Valladolid 2-3 Real Madrid (08/12; La Liga)
Celta Vigo 2-1 Real Madrid (12/12; Copa del Rey)

Espanyol 0-3 Sevilla (28/11; Copa del Rey)
Granada 0-0 Espanyol (02/12; La Liga)
Espanyol 2-2 Sevilla (07/12; La Liga)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Marcelo; Gonzalo Higuain; Raul Albiol; Fabio Coentrao (doubt); Karim Benzema (doubt)

Espanyol: Cristian Alvarez (doubt); Rui Fonte (doubt)

Players to watch

Real Madrid – Sami Khedira: The German was rested in midweek action, but against Espanyol expect him to be included into the starting eleven once more. Khedira is one of the team’s pillars, and his ability to break up the opposition’s play has been instrumental in Real Madrid’s matches so far this season.

Espanyol – Christian Stuani: The experienced Uruguayan may be able to be his side’s focal point in attack. Against Real Madrid, he faces the league’s second-best defensive unit, but Los Blancos’ back four have been breached this season and Stuani will be looking to do just that.

Match Prediction

Despite their midweek blushes, Real Madrid have nonetheless been strong at home so far this season. Espanyol will be hopeful of claiming at least a draw, but battling against relegation and with only two wins so far this season, the signs do not look good for the visitors. Expect Los Blancos to comfortably win this one.

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