Los Blancos travel to Barcelona, where they surely have to overcome los Periquitos if they’re to maintain a title challenge...Odds Stacked Against
After a highly promising start to the season, Espanyol’s good work in the first half of the campaign appears to be coming apart at the seams. Los Periquitos have the unenviable task of trying to get back to winning ways at home against Real Madrid on Sunday night.
Financial pressures have forced to Barcelona-based club to sell defenders Victor Ruiz and Didac, while an injury to key striker Pablo Osvaldo has left them a little impotent in attack. Results have accordingly slumped, with last weekend’s defeat away from struggling Almeria highlighting the difficulties that the Catalans face in the coming weeks.
Coach Mauricio Pochettino noted that the Andalucians’ sharper finishing last weekend was the difference between the sides, but back at the Cornella-El Prat, where he has witnessed his side win eight of 10 Liga matches, he has a rather different worry, calling for a strong refereeing display from Mateu Lahoz.
“If we look at it in terms of budget, then there is no comparison between us and Real Madrid, but in football anything is possible, and sometimes work and effort outweigh millions,” he said optimistically earlier this week.
Hard graft has certainly got Espanyol far this season, but having lost some of their better players in recent weeks, it’s unlikely to be enough to worry their weekend guests.
No Margin For Error
Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, meanwhile, continue to go along strongly, but such is the form of Barcelona, even the slightest slip from los Blancos is being punished harshly. Away from home, the capital side have struggled lately, and as a result, they cannot count on recording three points on Sunday.
A draw against Almeria in the second week of 2011 was a significant set-back as it pushed Madrid four points behind their great rivals, but defeat against Osasuna only a fortnight ago bordered on a catastrophe. Raul Albiol has already underlined his belief that no further errors can be made if Barca’s large looking advantage is to be overhauled.
“We have no margin for error, because if we lose it means we can virtually say goodbye to the league,” he explained to the press. “Espanyol are a difficult team because they have a good record at home. Everyone knows that they will really want to win, and we cannot fail. We are seven points behind Barcelona, so we better win.”
At the Bernabeu, los Merengues continue to win. Last weekend Mourinho’s men romped to a 4-1 success over a dangerous Real Sociedad side, with Cristiano Ronaldo the star of the show after recording two first half goals. Kaka and Emmanuel Adebayor also got in on the act, and with these recent additions to the squad, albeit the former only coming back from a long-term injury, Madrid should feel that they have as formidable a panel as at any stage this term.
A late call will have to be made on David Garcia, who’s likely to sit out due to a fractured nose. Verdu and Sergio Garcia will both have to overcome gastroenteritis to play but Carlos Kameni has overcome a muscular complaint and will feature in goal.
Pablo Osvaldo, Ivan de la Pena and Felipe Mattioni are all still out.
All 13 players who competed on international duty have returned to the camp and trained successfully. Jerzy Dudek and Gonzalo Higuain are still out. Sergio Ramos returns after suspension and Pepe should be fully integrated after returning to training last week.