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Espanyol Vs. Real Madrid Preview: Is This The Beginning Of A Kaká - Özil Dynasty?


The main story line circulating up and down the Paseo de la Castellana for the last few days (and trust me, I've been here), is the resurgence of Real Madrid's superstar midfielder Kaká, who has garnered universal acclaim in his last two matches: he (and goalkeeper Iker Casillas) was the man of the match in Madrid's 6-2 pasting of Rayo Vallecano, and steamrolled past a week Ajax team in los blancos' 3-0 UEFA Champions League victory.

The most interesting development that I saw during these past few matches has been Madrid's ability to shift their focus of play with both Kaká and German wünderkind Mesut Özil manning the creative duties in midfield. Before Kaká's resurgence, Özil was undisputedly in charge of leading Real Madrid's offense, both on the counter and in possession; in the last two matches, both players bounced off each other, with Kaká's energy infecting Özil's play, and creating more space for the young German.

So tomorrow, Real Madrid will take the field in Barcelona (no they're not playing them, they're playing Espanyol) with a few fascinating questions to answer: can Özil and Kaká really play together? Is Karim Benzema--sidelined with an injury--an integral part of the offensive mechanism? Were Kaká's last couple of games a fluke, or is he really back to his old Balon d'Or self?

Honestly, we won't be able to answer all of these questions tomorrow; what we will be able to do is see whether the "slump" los vikingos went through earlier is really over, or whether they'll slide back into the funk they seemed to be in a few weeks ago.

We'll also get important clues to the questions I asked above: if Mesut Özil and Kaká play well together, then we could be witnessing, to quote my beloved Humphrey Bogart, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. If not, José Mourinho is going to have a hell of a choice on his hands.

We'll also be able to begin to analyze whether Madrid's midfield is really a weakness--as one FC Barcelona administrator said recently--or whether, as I think is the case, it's actually a brilliantly fine-tuned weapon, that, with a small malfunction (and some bad luck) ran into a few anomalous problems.

Espanyol is a solid, if slightly unspectacular, team. They play an entertaining brand of football, a sort of classic mix of Spanish football: possession and counter-attack in equal measures. They're a team that shouldn't be taken lightly, but they're also a very beatable team, even at home. Their coach, Pochettino, will be looking to shut down Cristiano Ronaldo from the get-go, so prepare yourselves for some fouls and double teams on the Portuguese superstar; this move could backfire, though, as it should give more space to the playmakers, Özil and Kaká.

My favorite player on Espanyol is their young keeper Carlos Kameni, who's a highly underrated asset; they're also exciting in the midfield, with Joan Verdú (among others) in the playmaking role. I'm going to say this again: they're a solid, but very beatable team.

(Side note: Madrid fans should have great memories of Espanyol from that 7 seconds of madness back in 2007, when within 7 seconds, goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy against Zaragoza and Raúl Tamudo against Barcelona won the Liga for Real Madrid. What a day.)

Players to watch: For Madrid? Mesut Özil and Kaká. How are they interacting? Are they understanding each other? Is one taking a dominant role? The answer to these questions could be key to the future of Real Madrid.

Pick: Espanyol 1-4 Real Madrid

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