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La Liga 2015, Real Madrid vs Espanyol: Match preview

Real Madrid aim to end two-game slump with a win against Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

This should be the perfect turning point for Real Madrid to put their current slump with a convincing win over Espanyol. The Catalan side could be considered a dangerous team away from the Santiago Bernabéu, but Ancelotti's men will surely try to make a statement right before Thursday's second leg against Atlético de Madrid.

The Italian coach has announced that Sergio Ramos will not feature in this match, meaning that Raphaël Varane will be starting alongside Pepe. Right back Dani Carvajal is also out with a yellow-card suspension. If Ancelotti wants to be a fair coach, he will deploy Nacho there, especially after Arbeloa's mediocre performance on Wednesday's Derby. Arbeloa could not get anything going, and he struggled defensively too. He's well past his prime and never regained his form after the injury he suffered on 2013.

Espanyol, currently ranked 10th in the table, will play with a defensive-minded approach, so Real Madrid will need creativity to break through Espanyol's wall. That has been precisely the issue for Los Blancos after the Christmas break. James, for instance, underperformed in both games and Real Madrid need his creativity to bring back the impressive goalscoring record they had through the first months of the season.

Although Real will host Atlético next Thursday in what will be a very demanding game, Ancelotti plans not to make many rotations against Espanyol. This could be a very crucial weekend for him, because Atlético and FC Barcelona face each other on Sunday, giving Real Madrid a chance to increase their lead against at least one of those two teams. That way, the italian coach will want to secure the three points and take no risks on Saturday's game. After all, La Liga is far more important than the Copa del Rey.

It will be interesting to see what kind of performance Gareth Bale offers. Just like the rest of his teammates, the Welsh is going through a dip in his form, but he's been criticized more often. Bale will surely try to redeem himself by scoring a couple of goals, but he should focus on his overall contribution to the team's offensive and defensive system instead.

If Real Madrid can get the three points and a solid all-around performance against Espanyol, the players will start believing in a potential comeback against Atlético. But the coaching staff will first go step by step, focusing on what's important right now. And that's La Liga. There will be a lot of time to think about Atlético and watch them play against Barcelona on Sunday.

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