Los Blancos have yet to turn on the style under Jose Mourinho, but they will hope to do so against los Periquitos...
Real Madrid are quickly discovering that simply appointing Jose Mourinho as head coach is not a formula to magically nullify all their problems, yet los Blancos have still made a commendable start to their Primera Division campaign and sit third as they approach their midweek encounter against Espanyol.
After an opening day stalemate in Mallorca, los Merengues have since defeated Osasuna and Real Sociedad, though neither has been dispatched in any great style. Saturday’s performance in San Sebastian may not have been all-conquering, but it was enough to get all three points as Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo both scored fine goals en route to a 2-1 victory.
“I’m very pleased, not only for the goal but for the win,” proclaimed the Argentine goal scorer to the media after the game. “We wanted to win, and we must continue to win. Real Sociedad are a great team, we had a difficult time but we finally beat them.”
Rumours that Mourinho could take charge of Portugal on a temporary basis, suggestions that had the potential to cause a rift at the club, appear to have been cleared, with the coach claiming that he holds no grudges against los Blancos, who would not let him discuss the position.
These suggestions come at a rather fortuitous time as the club have no time to brood on the issue but are rather thrust into a period when they are playing game after game, allowing them to concentrate on their on-field issues as opposed to niggling off-field problems.
Rarely last season did Espanyol look like a particularly free-flowing offensive unit, but by the same token they were rarely easy opponents to break. Those same characteristics have been on display over the course of the first month of the Primera Division season, during which time los Periquitos have earned six points.
Saturday’s encounter against Almeria at the Cornella-El Prat was an archetypical performance from the Barcelona club. They kept things tight at the back but struggled to create a great deal going forward, hindered by the loss of top marksman Pablo Daniel Osvaldo due to injury. Maurizio Pochettino eventually saw his side make the breakthrough, scoring through Jose Callejon just after the interval.
“The players have shown strength, courage, hope, discipline and order,” Pochettino explained after the fixture to the media. “It has been a fair victory and I think we have perhaps not scored as many times as we should have. It is three important points, even at this stage of the season.”
The Argentine was somewhat reluctant to express any great hope of taking points from the midweek encounter against Real Madrid, explaining simply: “Hopefully we can play with the regularity and strength that we have shown at home.”
If Espanyol can make the game scrappy and disjointed, they will be pleased with their efforts as a battle would suit them far more than their hosts.
Sergio Canales is set to miss out for around two to three weeks after innocuously spraining his ankle during training, but Raul Albiol returned to work with the squad on Sunday for the first time after suffering a similar issue during pre-season.
Kaka, Ezequiel Garay and Fernando Gago remain longer term issues for Jose Mourinho to consider.
Los Blancos have been training behind closed doors, keeping their cards close to their chest.
Probable Starting XI: Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Ronaldo, Oezil, De Maria; Higuain
Ankle problems seem to be very much in vogue at present as Espanyol’s Ivan Alonso has also picked up an issue with the joint and will be missing for around a month, joining Pablo Daniel Osvaldo on the sidelines. Felipe Mattioni won’t be back in action until 2011 due to a serious knee injury.
The club were without Ivan de la Pena at the weekend due to a slight muscular problem, and the midfielder is again doubtful for this encounter.
Chica returns following a one game ban.
Probable Starting XI: Kameni; Chica, V. Ruiz, Forlin, Garcia; Duscher, Verdu, Marquez; Datolo, Luis Garcia, Callejon