With Barcelona and Atletico Madrid drawing on Saturday, Real Madrid has been presented with a golden opportunity to go just three points behind the two league leaders with a win over Espanyol.
While no La Liga game is a given, Los Blancos will be heavily tipped to beat an Espanyol team that has lost two straight, including a Copa del Rey round of 16 game against AD Alcorcon.
So will Real Madrid make up ground on La Liga's leaders? Or will Espanyol claim a point (or three) and keep Los Blancos at arm's length of the top two teams?
When: Sunday, January 12, at 1 p.m. ET/6 p.m. GMT
Where: Estadi Cornella-El Prat, Barcelona, Spain
Watch: beIN Sport; beIN Sport Play; Sky Sports 1 (U.K.)
Match Forecast: Real Madrid (56.5 percent), Espanyol (22 percent) and draw (21.6 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
While Gareth Bale has been quite good for Real Madrid when he's on the pitch this year, well, he's had a hard time staying on the pitch, battling with injuries. But he returned for Real Madrid's 2-0 Copa del Rey win over Osasuna, and his manager, Carlo Ancelotti, was quite pleased with his performance.
His comments, via BBC Sport:
Bale played very well and was very dangerous.
Everyone knows he had injury problems and he is a player that needs to be in optimal condition. For that reason he played the whole game. In the second-half the game was more open and it suited him more, but we are all very happy with him.
So how good has Bale been? Well, only Cristiano Ronald (8.2) and Isco (7.7) on Real Madrid have a higher average match rating in La Liga play than Bale (7.68), according to WhoScored.com. Bale is also third on the team in goals (seven) and leads the team in assists (seven).
And that's in just 11 appearances. Suffice to say, he's adapted to life in La Liga rather quickly. Along with Ronaldo, Isco and Karim Benzema, he helps to form one of the most dangerous attacking forces in all of Europe.
For Espanyol, unleashing Sergio Garcia (seven goals, three assists) on a Real Madrid defense that has allowed 13 away goals on the season will be key. Slowing down Los Blancos' vaunted attack is difficult for the most talented of teams, so trying to keep pace with them is often a team's best shot.
If Garcia has a quiet game, it's going to be very difficult for Espanyol to win this one.
Real Madrid have been presented with a golden opportunity to make up some ground on the La Liga table, and they should come out absolutely buzzing in this contest. Los Blancos have actually been better on the road (20 points, just one loss) than Espanyol have been at home (14 points), so don't expect much home-field advantage in this one.
With Bale back in the fold and Ronaldo and Isco each having excellent seasons, it's hard to imagine Espanyol slowing down Real Madrid. Los Blancos win easily, 3-0.
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