ten months ago, a happy Madrid thrashed Espanyol at the Bernabéu (4-0) and won its 35th League title. A triumph at the end of the white party that was not a drama for the Catalan team either, eight points above the relegation zone then with four games to go. They repeat now, in after-dinner hours and in very different circumstances (follow the game live on As.com). Madrid is almost at something else (Liverpool and the Cup, Alpine stages), unless San Mamés brings it back to life in the League, and Espanyol is only two points away from danger.
The duel is marked by a new absence of Benzema after the eighth injury of the course, which has deprived him of thirteen games so far and has kept him out for 76 days. Since September, the Frenchman has not been the one he has been in the previous four years, although he has managed to make it up with goals. 18 leads, 12 of them after the World Cup. Last year, at this point, there were already 30 and offered a leadership that now falls almost exclusively on Vinicius. The Brazilian, with his ups and downs, has already reached 18 goals, two more than the previous year, and points out that he will surpass the 22 that he has as a record in one season.
The loss of Benzema will return Rodrygo to the role of nine, in which he has already played fifteen games, the same as in the position that Ancelotti had reserved for him, as a right winger. Plan B, if things don’t work out, is Álvaro Rodríguez, this is a true nine, who played 23 minutes in the Cup against Cacereño and five against Barça in the same competition, plus 18, spread over three games, in the League, with a balance of one goal and one assist.
Ancelotti, despite the Anfield result, will not reserve too much. Perhaps to Kroos before the return of Modric, his sanction completed. Camavinga and Nacho will fight for the left back and perhaps Asensio will have an opportunity as a right winger.
Celtic, Germany, Premier…
Espanyol hangs on Darder, the championship player who filters the most balls into the area and a parakeet soul, and Joselu, top national scorer, with 11 goals, leader in offensive disputes in the last two seasons and also in this. Madrid knows him well because he raised him, because in two seasons at Castilla he scored 40 goals and was decisive for a promotion (seven goals in the four playoff games) and because he has scored seven goals in the nine games in which he has had in front
Joselu has traveled around the world until he ended up here. He started as a goalkeeper and changed his role because he was bored with the position. At the age of 11 he arrived at Celta, at 14 Atlético wanted him and at 18 Eusebio made his debut in the first sky blue team. There he played 30 matches until Madrid decided to incorporate him into its subsidiarywhere he coincided with Carvajal (who is his brother-in-law), Nacho, Sarabia, Álex Fernández, Cheryshev, Jesé, Lucas Vázquez or his now partner Pacheco.
His goalscoring facility first opened the doors of the Bundesliga (Hoffenheim, Eintracht and Hannover) and after the Premier (Stoke City and Newcastle). His return to Spain was beneficial. Three good seasons at Alavés and the jump last summer to Espanyol to cover the gap left by Raúl de Tomás. He missed three games in February due to injury, and Espanyol only won one. In the five league games prior to the mishap he had scored four goals. He is also in the top 10 finishers in the League.
It is the great offensive asset of a Espanyol that Diego Martínez has not given, until now, regularity. He has alternated good and bad moments, although he was in the relegation zone for only one day. He has gotten a lot stronger this winter. César Montes, Mexico’s best central defender in the World Cup, has become an essential piece. Since he arrived he has only missed two games due to injury. Pacheco has arrived to give some stability to the goal. Denis Suárez, finally released by Celta, has raised the level of the team although it still accuses the lack of competition. He will once again be the midfielder in an eleven that depends to a large extent on Puado and Oliván, doubts until the last minute. If he plays the first, coming out of a feverish process, a defense of four will be maintained. Otherwise, a third center-back, Cabrera, will enter to keep warmer at the Bernabéu.
ANDSet pieces are Espanyol’s weak point. Thus, he has conceded 12 goals, a third of the total, six of them from a corner. No other team in the League offers such a weakness. He is also near the bottom in possession, in recoveries, in passes and in dribbling. And he has a clear allergic reaction to the Bernabéu. He has not scored for more than ten years and has not been able to score a goal in his last seven visits. This time he can help Madrid not be able to get Liverpool out of their heads.
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