RCD Espanyol Vs. Real Madrid, Liga 2013: Varane's Injury Overshadows A Dull And Lackluster Draw

Denis Doyle

Raphael Varane's injury is the main concern as Madrid manage a lackluster draw. Christian Stuani scored in the first half and Gonzalo Higuain scored in the second as Barcelona mathematically win the league.

The Line-Up

Mourinho lined up with a B-team. Raphael Varane was out of position at right-back, Nacho (also out of position) on the left, and Carvalho and Albiol in the centre. In the midfield were Michael Essien and Luka Modric, with Angel di Maria, Kaka, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain up front.

In the 20th minute Varane had to be removed with an injured knee. Xabi Alonso was substituted for him into midfield with Essien moving to rightback.

The First Half

Espanyol were patently the better team. Not brilliant, but it didn't take much against a lacklustre Madrid that should have been doing better and still had the star-power in midfield to do it. Madrid were to concede just after the twentieth minute, when Alonso cleared the ball straight into the path of Espanyol's Christian Stuani, who scored.

Espanyol did drop back slightly after taking the lead, but were hardly unadventurous. Madrid made it very easy for them to continue making threatening attacks; unable to keep the ball, players adjudged offside, zero inventiveness in the final third.

In defence, Raul Albiol was shaky in an unfamiliar backline, while Ricardo Carvalho couldn't keep the offside trap. Youngsters Nacho and Alvaro Morata looked slightly out of their depth. Modric and Kaka were completely anonymous and incapable of keeping the ball, while Higuain was threatened with the sight of Karim Benzema warming up after only half an hour. One good pass in the 8th minute for Morata aside, di Maria was simply poor, over-complicating his passing, losing the ball, his crosses ineffective. Xabi Alonso, coming in for an injured Varane after 20 minutes (with Essien moved to right-back), was responsible both for the goal in the 22nd minute and for Hector Moreno's wrongly disallowed effort a few minutes later.

The Second Half

Jose Mourinho reacted by removing Morata and replacing him with Karim Benzema. In the 57th minute Kaka was replaced with Cristiano Ronaldo. Gonzalo Higuain was to score about two minutes later

Madrid's defence also looked more solid in the second half. Nacho improved noticeably, but the midfield remained poor, with Modric and di Maria unable to create a dangerous situation for Espanyol's defence. While a great deal of credit goes to an excellent defensive performance, there was simply no inventiveness or penetration from either player.

The match ended, a flurry of bookings (that saw Sanchez sent off in the final minute) aside, with a whimper.

Final Notes

It was a foul-tempered match, with Nacho being deliberately kicked by Stuani in the second half, and Alonso getting carded for what looked like a retributive foul on Sanchez. He was himself fouled several times. In the final 20 minutes, in particular, it was raining yellow cards on both teams.

For all that, it was still far too civilized to produce that many cautions (5 for Espanyol with a sending off, and 6 for Real Madrid). It was a season record for this referee.

Pepe's spat with Mourinho was unfortunate for Varane, a player one would have expected would be rested. Madridistas will have to wait to see if Varane recovers in time for the final on Friday.

FC Barcelona are now, mathematically, champions of the Liga - without yet having to play their weekend match because the gap between first and second is greater than the number of points still to play for. Congratulations to FC Barcelona.

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