Real Madrid return provisionally to the top of La Liga after goals from Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema secured a routine win at home to struggling Espanyol on Saturday.
On a sunny early afternoon at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zinedine Zidane’s side dominated for most of the game, but openings were few and far between in a subdued first half.
Fede Valverde fired wide after a good run by Vinicus Junior, in the team for his first start since October 19, and Benzema shot straight at Diego Lopez after another attack from the Brazilian.
The 19-year-old was lively on his return to the line-up, but was let down by his finishing again, going close with one counter-attack after he was freed by Benzema and raced down the left before forcing Lopez into a fine save and failing to hit the target on a couple of other occasions.
The goal came from an unlikely source as Varane beat his former team-mate Lopez after latching onto a Benzema pass with 37 minutes gone and Madrid deserved their lead at that point.
Casemiro then made a vital tackle to deny Sergi Darder a clear shot on goal early in the second half, but Espanyol created little danger and after missing a couple of decent chances, Benzema made sure of the win with 11 minutes left.
The French forward started off the move as he found Valverde in the area and continued his run, receiving the ball back from the Uruguayan and slotting low into the corner to make it 2-0.
Ferland Mendy was then sent off for a second bookable offence with seven minutes left, but Madrid held on comfortably to move top of La Liga ahead of Barcelona, with the Catalans able to reclaim first place by beating Mallorca later on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Espanyol’s predicament is starting to look dramatic as the Pablo Machin’s side sit second to bottom with just nine points and only two wins from their 16 games.
Relive the game with Standard Sport’s LIVE blog!
Hello and welcome to our LIVE match coverage of Real Madrid vs Espanyol!
Here’s how we think the two sides could line up today…
Espanyol possible XI: Diego Lopez; Calero, Espinosa, David Lopez; Roca; Pedrosa, Darder, Melendo, Avila; Wu, Calleri
Early team news
Eden Hazard suffered a bruised knee in Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain last week and was expected to be out for 10 days, but the problem is worse than originally thought, the club revealed on Thursday, and the Belgian could now be out for a month.
Real also announced on Thursday that Marcelo has picked up a calf problem and the Brazilian will be unavailable to face Espanyol.
Gareth Bale, meanwhile, has a hamstring issue and will miss today’s match, along with the Champions League clash away to Club Brugge next week.
With Lucas Vazquez, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio all out, coach Zinedine Zidane could include Brazilian teenagers Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior for the league clash, in which Karim Benzema should feature.
Isco is another alternative in Hazard’s absence, the midfielder having started and impressed in the past two games for Real – against PSG and Alaves.
Ferland Mendy will replace Marcelo at left-back, but Zidane is unlikely to make too many changes because the La Liga game takes priority over the Champions League clash on Wednesday, with Los Blancos already confirmed in second place in Group A – whatever happens in Bruges.
Madrid in green
The hosts will don their green away strips instead of traditional white on home soil this afternoon in order to show support for the Climate Summit in Madrid.
“Fans who attend the game will also see a huge eco banner that is 35.77 metres wide and 19.60 metres high on the side of the stadium.
“It was installed by the club and will stay there until the end of the climate change conference on the 13th December.”
Real Madrid and Espanyol teams confirmed
Real Madrid XI: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Casemiro, Kroos, Valverde; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Junior
Substitutes: Areola, Militao, Modric, Jovic, Odriozola, Brahim, Isco
Espanyol XI: Diego Lopez, David Lopez, Bernardo, Calero; Victor, Darder, Roca, Granero, Didac; Wu Lei, Calleri.
Substitutes: Prieto, Pipa, Pedrosa, Lluis Lopez, Melendo, Pol Lozano, Campuzano
Vinicius back from the wilderness
Vinicius Junior is back after not featuring for a month and starts his first match for Real Madrid since the 1-0 loss at Mallorca in October.
The 19-year-old has a point to prove after being left out of Zinedine Zidane’s last two squads, but gets a chance tonight in the absence of Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale through injury.
A few minutes away from kick-off at the Santiago Bernabeu and Madrid’s anthem is playing now. Real are on form and will be expected to beat an Espanyol side in desperate need for points.
Under way at the Bernabeu!
1 min: Vinicius Junior involved down the left early on. The Brazilian is forced to turn back and Fede Valverde’s attempted ball into the area is blocked by an Espanyol defender…
2 mins: Real Madrid, all in green today to support the Climate Support here in the Spanish capital, dominating the play early on. But Espanyol, in their usual blue and white, solid at the back so far…
4 mins: Vinicius is on the left and Rodrygo on the right, but both Brazilians are tracking back when Espanyol have the ball…
6 mins: Rodrygo moves over to the left and goes on a superb run, checks back and shoots at goal from an angle. Diego Lopez parries and Fede Valverde hits wide with the follow-up from the edge of the box…
8 mins: After the usual chants for Juanito, Thibaut Courtois is forced into action. The Belgian does well to intercept a cross from the right and is applauded…
10 mins: Espanyol have a free-kick on the left, just inside Madrid’s half. They chip a ball into the area, but Raphael Varane heads it out and from the throw-in, Real win the ball back…
11 mins: All Madrid’s players apart from Courtois in Espanyol’s half now. Valverde hits a shot from just outside the box, but it’s deflected out for a corner…
12 mins: Espanyol clear from the corner, but only as far as Rodrygo. The Brazilian hits a fierce effort from the edge of the area, but it flies wide…
13 mins: Vinicius and Rodrygo combine on the left and the latter wins a corner…
14 mins: Espanyol clear their lines, but Real win it back and Vinicius runs down the middle, laying off for Karim Benzema to his left. The French forward hits a first-time shot with his right, but it’s straight at Diego Lopez…
15 mins: Esteban Granero booked for a foul on Toni Kroos…
17 mins: Now Vinicius Junior is booked for going in a little hard on Diego Lopez…
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