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Espanyol vs Real Madrid, La Liga: Match Preview

Ancelotti's men take on the Catalan side in the penultimate league matchup of the season.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

With the Champions League season ending on Wednesday, Barcelona seemingly cruising with the title and several players dealing with injuries; it's hard at scrounge up the motivation to play out the remaining two matches on the schedule as so little is at stake. Of course, Barcelona could still mathematically lose their grip on the league title race, but the odds of that aren't really in Madrid favor so the last two matches are more of a formality than anything else. Still, the players have an obligation to be professional and give it their all so here we are.

Espanyol has been an odd side this season. They're not a very good offensive side, despite being ninth best in terms of scoring in the league, and they're very much middle-of-the-pack in terms of defense. They have some skill, but they often play a roughtand tumble, clumsy type of football that relies more on the longball and individual moments of brilliance than strong team play.

They've has been led this season by 31-year-old Sergio Garcia and Lucas Vazquez, on loan from Real Madrid and unable to play versus his parent club due to a clause in his contract. They're a side that likes to utilize its wide play versus opposition, but with Vazquez being unavailable that should make whoever starts at leftback for Madrid tomorrow breathe a little easier. Other than that, we shouldn't expect many, if any, changes from their best XI. Espanyol will likely look to tighten things up and spring the counterattack game versus Madrid as that's where they excel as opposed to a traditional possession-oriented type of game.

As far as Real Madrid, it will have to overcome tomorrow's obstacle without Carlo Ancelotti's guidance as he's picked up a two match ban for his actions versus Valencia last weekend. Co-captain Sergio Ramos is ruled out for the rest of the season while midfielder Toni Kroos is hurting as well, so it wouldn't be surprising to see someone like Asier Illarramendi starting in his place. Karim Benzema could also be name d a starter again following his showing midweek and with Madrid chasing any hope of a league title should Barcelona suffer a loss. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will round out the front three. The only other question marks for Madrid are who the fullbacks will be and if Iker Casillas will play again this season. It makes sense to give Keylor Navas a start tomorrow, as Ancelotti has hinted, and Iker one last start at the Bernabeu next week.

Given their inability to really challenge any of the league's top sides this season, it's hard to see Espanyol pulling off a shock upset tomorrow, though they're sure to try and give it their all to improve on the 14th place finish they took last season. Of course, Madrid's players could take their foot off the collective gas pedal but one would hope their pride would push them through to see out the three points just in case Atletico Madrid does them a favor versus Barcelona. Look for a very slim Madrid victory despite Madrid winning the first meeting of the season by a 3-0 margin.

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