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Sep 22, 2018 at 7.45pm UK
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Preview: Real Madrid vs. Espanyol - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Real Madrid vs. Espanyol - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole provides predicted lineups, team news and a full match preview of Real Madrid's La Liga showdown with Espanyol at the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid return to La Liga action on Saturday evening with the visit of Espanyol, as they aim to keep pace with Barcelona at the top of the standings.

It has been a positive start to life in the Spanish capital for Julen Lopetegui, but his side dropped points for the first time this season in their most recent outing and must quickly bounce back.

Real Madrid

Despite slipping up at Athletic Bilbao last weekend, the mood around the Real Madrid camp is largely positive in what is still the early stages of a new era.

Minus respected manager Zinedine Zidane and star man Cristiano Ronaldo, Los Blancos have taken 10 points from the first 12 available and are two points better off than at the same stage 12 months ago.

The 2017-18 league campaign was pretty disastrous from Real's perspective, as they finished 17 points behind runaway champions Barcelona and three behind city rivals Atletico Madrid in third place, although that was soon forgotten about when lifting the Champions League title for a third year in a row.

Madrid have also hit the ground running on the continent this term by putting three unanswered goals past Roma on Wednesday night, producing an impressive all-round display to run out deserved winners. The only surprise, in fact, was that they were restricted to just the three goals.

Isco, Gareth Bale and Mariano Diaz were all on target for Los Blancos, the latter marking his second debut for the club in style with a late curler to cap off the evening, but now attention turns back to the Spanish top flight.

Real may have dominated the European landscape in recent years, but their domestic record by comparison is pretty terrible, claiming the La Liga crown just once in the last six years and twice since 2008-09.

The early signs under Lopetegui are positive enough, though, even accounting for the 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup last month - their first defeat in an international final of any sort since 2000 - and three more points on Saturday will lift them above Barcelona, who face neighbours Girona a day later.

The reigning European champions are embarking on a tough run, with the visit of Espanyol followed up by a midweek trip to Sevilla and the visit of Atletico a few days later, and focus can then slowly turn to that first El Clasico showdown of the season in five weeks' time.

Recent form in La Liga: WWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWDW


Espanyol have also enjoyed a pretty positive opening month to the La Liga campaign, having collected seven points from their first four games - a tally bettered only by Barcelona and opponents Real Madrid.

The Periquitos have won both home matches, scoring three goals and conceding none in the process, while away from home they claimed a respectable point at Celta Vigo and lost against Alaves.

Winning back-to-back matches has proved a difficult task for Espanyol over the past couple of years, though, doing so just once since the end of the 2016-17 campaign.

Sergio Garcia's second-half goal against Levante last weekend means that Rubi's men can double that tally at the Bernabeu, and the visitors are unlikely to park the bus in the Spanish capital.

The side from Catalonia have the second-highest shot count in the division, registering 53 efforts in total at a rate of 13 per game, although three of their five goals so far - 60% - have come via set pieces.

Espanyol also have the fourth-highest fouls count and are 10th in terms of completed passes, so while it is not always pleasing on the eye they have a reputation for attempting to play positive football, which is a key mantra for boss Rubi.

That is evident in the 48-year-old's team selection, which has remained the same for the last three matches, as Borja Iglesias, Leo Baptistao and Garcia have all been shoehorned into the side.

Recent form in La Liga: DWLW

Team News

Lopetegui will no doubt have an eye on the upcoming tests against Sevilla and Atletico, meaning that changes could be made for this weekend's clash.

Alvaro Odriozola is available at right-back, giving Dani Carvajal a welcome rest, while Nacho is an option if Lopetegui wants to leave out one of Sergio Ramos or Raphael Varane.

Further forward, Dani Ceballos was omitted against Roma after starting the match in Bilbao last week, but the young midfielder is likely to be picked over Casemiro here.

Isco justified his selection in that straightforward win over the Giallorossi by netting a sublime opener, though continuing with the rotation theme it could well be Marco Asensio who gets the nod here, alongside in-form duo Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.

The visitors could be without centre-back David Lopez through injury, meanwhile, but Rubi will gamble on the player's fitness if needs be.

Garcia's winning goal against Levante from his starting position on the left should be enough to keep his place in the side, leaving Pablo Piatti among the back-up options.

Rubi has kept things unchanged for the past three matches and, depending on the magnitude of Lopez's injury, that run is expected to extend.

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Odriozola, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Kroos, Ceballos; Asensio, Benzema, Bale

Espanyol possible starting lineup:
Diego Lopez; Javi Lopez, David Lopez, Hermoso, Vila; Darder, Roca, Granero; Baptistao, Iglesias, Garcia

Head To Head

Espanyol have not won away at Real Madrid since 1996, most recently conceding 27 and scoring just one in an eight-match losing streak.

Los Blancos have won 24 of the last 31 encounters overall, meanwhile, although they were beaten in the reverse fixture last season as a late Gerard Moreno goal gave the Periquitos a rare win.

The last two games at the Bernabeu have ended 2-0 in Madrid's favour, with Isco netting a brace in last October's clash in the Spanish capital.

We say: Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

Espanyol, much like Real Madrid, can be happy with their start to the 2018-19 campaign. This is a huge step up for the Periquitos, however, even if the hosts do rotate their side slightly, so we can expect their winless away run to continue.

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