Real Madrid will head to Catalunya on Sunday to take on Javier Aguirre’s Espanyol side in La Liga at Cornella-El Prat.
It is not just the ground where Los Blancos’ draw last season handed the title to Barcelona, but the ground where Valencia, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid have all lost this season—Carlo Ancelotti will be aware of the task in hand.
Aside from long-term absentees Sami Khedira, Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane, the Italian should be able to count on a strong side.
However, there is a concern over Xabi Alonso. The Basque midfielder was substituted at half-time in the win over Celta Vigo and missed the Copa del Rey tie with Osasuna due to a burst ear drum. Time will tell whether it will be healed in time for this weekend’s match.
Elsewhere there’s a slight doubt over Jese Rodriguez after the youngster had to be substituted following his goal in the win over Osasuna.
The 20-year-old’s injury is not as bad as initially feared, but the match with Los Pericos could come too soon.
There’s been a lot of fuss over Iker Casillas in Spain this week, too, after the birth of his son with Spanish television presenter, Sara Carbonero. He kept a clean sheet in the Copa in midweek but will presumably be replaced by Diego Lopez once again for Sunday’s league fixture.
With Varane and Coentrao still out, 75 percent of Ancelotti’s back four picks itself: Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Marcelo.
As ever, the one question mark remains at right-back. Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Arbeloa have enjoyed near enough the same amount of minutes this season, but we are beginning to see signs that it is possibly the former who is favoured.
Meanwhile, if Alonso doesn’t make it, expect Asier Illarramendi to start alongside Luka Modric in the middle of the park.
The Croatian has been one of Madrid’s best players for more than a year now and his name is surely one of the first to be written on Ancelotti’s team sheet.
Bale’s return to a starting spot in the Copa del Rey should be enough to earn him the slot on the right wing ahead of Angel di Maria, who has courted controversy this week following a gesture after being substituted against Celta Vigo (h/t Goal.com).
Isco, who was on the bench in the cup, should return centrally with Cristiano Ronaldo, as ever, taking his place on the left-hand side of the pitch.
After failing to score in midweek, the Portuguese will be keen to get back among the goals at Cornella.
Karim Benzema has seemingly put his poor early season form behind him and lifted the Madrid fans from his back; he will take his place as No. 9 with Alvaro Morata, a target for Arsenal and Benfica according to the Mirror, once again forced to settle for a place on the bench.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Diego Lopez; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema