Real Madrid 1.08, Draw 12.00, Espanyol 25.00 – Saturday 15.00 GMT
Real Madrid have an ideal chance to get back to winning ways as they host Espanyol at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday morning.
After Los Blancos’ 2-0 Copa del Rey defeat at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, which followed their 2-1 La Liga loss at Valencia last weekend, coach Carlo Ancelotti was momentarily lost for words when asked about a ‘crisis’ at his post-match news conference.
The line of questioning was admittedly over the top given Madrid went into their winter break having won 22 games on the bounce in all competitions. However that amazing run appears to have drained some of the energy from Ancelotti’s team, who looked short on vigour in midfield and inspiration in attack at both Mestalla and the Calderon.
Most obviously Cristiano Ronaldo, who Ancelotti said was left on the bench on Wednesday due to “tiredness”, with unconfirmed reports claiming a further issue with his previously troublesome knee was the real reason.
Isco, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale all also all look below their best at the moment, but Ancelotti claimed at Friday’s press conference that the real issue to confront was mental not physical.
“We have had a fantastic run of wins, and afterwards we had the break, when we returned with two very difficult games,” he said. “We have data which says there is no physical problem. Maybe we need to push a little more, we just need more intensity. I don’t see it as a big problem. It is impossible for a team to win all its games. And you can learn a lot from defeats.”
Saturday’s game on paper offers an ideal chance to get back up and running. Espanyol drew 2-2 at the Bernabeu in December 2012, but have not won there since 1996, with the Madrid scoring at least twice in 14 of their last 15 meetings clashes there in all competitions.
In team news, Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal is suspended and centre-half Sergio Ramos is to be rested. That means Pepe and Iker Casillas should return, and Ancelotti suggested that otherwise he would not be rotating his XI.
Espanyol have also begun 2015 with two defeats, 2-1 at home to Eibar in La Liga, and the same score away at Valencia in the Copa on Wednesday night. Pericos coach Sergio Rodriguez cannot start former Madrid youth-teamer Lucas Vazquez for contractual reasons, and has fitness doubts over centre-back Hector Moreno. Their dangerman in attack is likely, as usual, to be roving centre-forward Sergio Garcia, with Christian Stuani a possible threat at set-pieces [where Madrid have conceded against both Valencia and Atletico].
Fail to pick up the three points here, and the alarm bells really will start ringing at the Bernabeu. But that seems pretty unlikely, even with their attacking stars not yet fully firing. Madrid to get their first win of 2015 without too many problems.
Predicted result: Madrid 3-0 Espanyol at 7.00
Best bet: The home team to win both halves at 1.72