Real Madrid entertain Espanyol in the final match of La Liga on Saturday with nothing to play for at the Bernabeu.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s defeat at Celta Vigo last week ended their title dream and left it in the hands of either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona: The two meet on Saturday at Camp Nou to decide who will lift the trophy.
Meanwhile, Espanyol’s point at home to Osasuna in their last outing ensured their place in Spain’s top flight for another season.
However, in another respect, Madrid still have everything to play for.
They travel to Lisbon next week for the Champions League final, and while there are still spaces in Ancelotti’s lineup available, there is still an intensity to be kept ahead of a match that will ultimately dictate how successful the club’s season has been.
The Italian coach has already confirmed though, per Marca, that “Cristiano Ronaldo is fit and available, so he will play. He doesn’t have any problems.”
Another certainty is that Iker Casillas will start in goal, with Ancelotti adding that Diego Lopez has been struggling this week, per the Spanish publication Marca:
[Lopez] has a small pain and we have given him the last few days off. It is just an overload, he hasn’t had problems before and to avoid problems for the final he is going to rest. He’s only missed two training sessions all year.
He continued by adding that only Pepe and Jese Rodriguez are not available this weekend but that he has not yet decided on the side which will start against Los Pericos.
His dilemma is whether he tries to shape the team similarly to how he envisages them lining up against Atletico or whether he tries to dodge adding any more injuries to a squad already showing signs of fatigue.
If it’s the former idea which grips Ancelotti, presumably Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane will start—although Carvajal has been struggling with a slight knock during recent weeks.
If not, Nacho Fernandez and Alvaro Arbeloa may receive some minutes.
On the left of the back four, it looks as close as a coin toss when it comes to deciding who will claim that position for the final: Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo?
With Xabi Alonso suspended in Europe, the Basque midfielder may be left on the bench in order to allow Asier Illarramendi or Sami Khedira to gather some momentum ahead of a possible start for one or both of them at the Stadium of Light.
Luka Modric, who will definitely start next weekend’s final, is almost certain to start against Espanyol, too, with Angel Di Maria, who has also just recovered from an injury, and Isco also possibilities to complete Ancelotti’s three-man midfield.
Across the front three, Ronaldo (31 goals) will look to tie up the Pichichi, although it seems unlikely that Lionel Messi (28) or Diego Costa (27) will catch him now.
The other usual starters, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, have both missed out in recent weeks as members of a lengthy queue at the treatment table, but both could feature against Espanyol.
However, Ancelotti may restrict them to roles from the bench, with Alvaro Morata and Isco also candidates to play alongside Ronaldo.
Predicted Real Madrid XI: Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Marcelo; Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric; Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco, Gareth Bale