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Lopetegui knew Espanyol would be good but not that Madrid would be so bad

1:01 AM GMT+4 23/09/2018
Marco Asensio Real Madrid
Los Blancos moved top of La Liga with a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu but a drastic improvement is required ahead of the games against Sevilla and Atletico

Julen Lopetegui knew what was coming.

"It’s going to be a very demanding game, I have no doubt about it,” the Real Madrid coach warned on the eve of Saturday's Liga clash with Espanyol.

"Espanyol have improved a lot, are complete in many aspects of the game and have a great coach.

"They’ll have prepared for the match thoroughly all week and it'll be the most demanding match we’ll have had at the Bernabeu."

He wasn't wrong. The 1-0 win was as trying as the scoreline suggests.

Real had produced their best performance to date under Lopetegui in the 3-0 Champions League rout of Roma in midweek.

They followed it up with their worst. 

Perhaps Lopetegui has to accept his share of the blame for that because it wasn't as if Espanyol were particularly good; it was more that Real were unusually bad. 

And Lopetegui's changes hadn't helped in that regard. 

Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Dani Carvajal were all left out and their absences were felt, some more than others.

Lopetegui's reasoning was sound, with Real set to face the most testing week of their season so far: a trip to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday to face Sevilla before a Madrid derby with Atletico three days later.

However, the post-Roma positivity quickly dissipated during a dreadfully flat display against Espanyol.

They were particularly poor in attack, as underlined by the fact that Marcos Asensio's opening goal, which arrived just before the break, represented Real's only shot on target in the first half.

It was also as fortuitous as it was undeserved, with a shot-cum-pass from Modric taking a couple of deflections before it fell at the feet of the former Espanyol winger.

Asensio finished emphatically, sweeping the ball into the bottom right corner, but that was to be as good as it got for the home side's attack.

Karim Benzema was withdrawn after an hour having contributed nothing offensively, while the highlight of Isco's game was a beautiful outside-of-the-boot cross from which Sergio Ramos drew a flying save out of Diego Lopez.

In truth, Ramos had often looked like Madrid's most motivated attacker, although it was the captain himself who had very nearly gifted Espanyol an equaliser during the second half.

After carelessly giving the ball away on the edge of his own box, he was blessed to see Borja Iglesias' ingenious scooped shot come back off the crossbar, with Thibaut Courtois beaten all ends up.

It wasn't Espanyol's only chance either. They blew two inviting breakaways in the first half, and another in the second - all products of Madrid's bizarre lethargy and general sloppiness in possession. 

Ultimately, they were indebted to Asensio – the one positive on an otherwise negative night – left for three points that puts them temporarily above Barcelona at the top of the Liga standings. 

It is unlikely they will still be there by the end of next week, though. 

Lopetegui feared Espanyol would be demanding. He was right and, on the evidence of Saturday night, Sevilla and Atletico will be even more challenging.