Few things in life are as dependable as Real Madrid losing a starter over an international break, and this week the FIFA plague claimed both Danilo and James. We knew Rafa was keen on rotating his squad, and he’ll get to send out his third different formation in as many games against Espanyol. Historically, Real Madrid have brought the ruckus against RCD Espanyol. No club has lost to Real Madrid more than Espanyol, with Los Merengues beating the Catalan side 95 times. Here are three things to look for this weekend.
1. Dani Carvajal
Even if the plan was always for Carvajal and Danilo to split minutes at right back, Danilo certainly looked capable of taking over routine starting duties, as he and James looked fantastic together on the right against Betis. Carvajal played a negligible amount of minutes against Sporting and didn’t feature in the 5-0 drubbing of Betis.
Despite his lack of minutes for Real, Carvajal played a full 90 for Spain against Macedonia and was one of La Roja’s better players, for whatever that's worth). But while Danilo gets healthy, Carvajal will probably starting, and finishing, all league matches. In each of their matches this season, Espanyol have started fast and scored within the first five minutes. Carvajal and Real's defense will have to protect their necks from the first whistle to the final whistle.
2. Gareth Bale
Hours after slotting home two goals and an assist against Betis, Bale hopped on a plane and went on international duty for Wales. He continued to make more noise than heavy metal over the international break, piloting the Welsh to near certain Euro 2016 berth.
Bale has happily started the 2015 season in a more central, free-roaming role and he's got a tasty matchup this weekend. Espanyol lack pace in their central midfield, which may allow Bale to keep up his lucrative form.
3. Madrid's changing shape as the match goes on
Benítez's affinity for squad rotation isn't limited to how he picks his starting lineup. In each of Real's first two league games, Rafa's made a substitution before the hour mark (which is quite refreshing after watching Ancelotti seemingly forget substitutes exist for the first 70 minutes last season. I love Carlo, but my goodness that was frustrating), and Real's approach to the game followed suit.
With Bale having played 178 hard minutes for Wales in the last nine days and the upcoming Champions League match on Tuesday, it would make sense if Benítez gave Bale a breather against Espanyol. Similarly, Modrić will want to be kept fresh for the clash against Shakhtar.
Isco has great flexibility between the right wing and central midfield, and he'll likely be the one most affected by the presence of Kovacic or Casemiro. This match might be an interesting look into the roles Madrid's depth players will play the rest of the season.