Real Madrid 2-0 RCD Espanyol
Real Madrid: Casilla; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Nacho; Kovačić, Kroos, Isco; Vázquez, Morata, Ronaldo. (4-3-3)
RCD Espanyol: Lopez; Reyes, Lopez, Duarte, Aaron; Fuego, Diop; Reyes, Jurado, Piatti; Gerard. (4-2-3-1)
After a solid 3-1 victory in Uefa Champions League against SSC Napoli during the week, Real Madrid hoped to perform in the same way when they received RCD Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. They definitely did not have any problem to dispatch the visitors with a victory.
Zinedine Zidane decided to give a rest to key players like Marcelo, Casemiro and Luka Modrić – the first two played a few minutes in the second half. He put Nacho, Mateo Kovačić and Isco in replacement of them respectively. But Real Madrid did not change their 4-3-3 scheme. It was a great decision because it let them control every line of the pitch perfectly.
It was pretty clear which team was the dominant of the game after the first 15 minutes. Real Madrid controlled the possession of the ball and played with an advanced backline on the half of the pitch at some moments of the game. The most pivotal player was Toni Kroos. He played as the center midfielder of the team — a position that he has had problems to dominate on his Real Madrid tenure. The lack of pressure by Espanyol gave Kroos enough space to pull the strings on offense comfortably. Kroos gave clarity to the passing lanes of the team with both short and long passes.
After patiently moving the ball through the German, Real Madrid created two great chances through Cristiano Ronaldo. In the first one, Ronaldo received a Lucas Vázquez’ pass while cutting through the right side of the box. He sent a shot that was deflected by a defender. While in the second one he found the way to open the space for himself and score a goal assisted by Kroos. The referee called for a non-existent offside.
That bad call did not affect Real Madrid too much. In the 33rd minute, they responded right away with a fantastic header by Álvaro Morata assisted by Isco. Isco sent a perfectly measured long pass from the right edge of the box. Morata anticipated very well on the jump and beat his rival easily while being on the air.
In the second half, Espanyol did not change their conservative game plan. A 4-2-3-1 scheme transformed into a 4-4-1-1 scheme. José Antonio Reyes and Pablo Piatti moved back to help Papakouli Diop and Javi Fuego on the defensive duties. This movement made it difficult for Real Madrid to beat Espanyol in the last third of the pitch, but allowed them, at the same time, to have a better control of the ball and spaces. Espanyol never were a threat on offense to Real Madrid. In fact, Espanyol created their first dangerous chance in the 62nd minute through a Piatti’s volley on the right edge of Real Madrid’s box.
Eight minutes later, Gareth Bale got into the pitch after a long absence due to an ankle injury. He only needed 13 minutes to leave his mark on the game. On a signature counter-attack by Real Madrid initiated by Ronaldo, Bale pushed the accelerator to take advantage of a great through assist made by Isco on the left wing. Bale received the ball, waited and sent a soft shot with his left foot. The perfect comeback for the Welsh.
Real Madrid continue their winning momentum and expect to extend their lead in the table on Wednesday when they face Valencia CF – a December game postponed due to Real Madrid’s participation in the FIFA Club World Cup.