Madrid would make the trip to Barcelona less than three full days after defeating Alaves convincingly at the Bernabeu. With that in mind, Zidane opted to rotate his squad. Ronaldo was left out completely and Benzema was left on the bench with Theo and Carvajal. Injuries to Modric, Kroos, Marcelo, Vallejo and a stomach bug for Casemiro meant Madrid’s squad would be stretched thin. With options limited, Zidane rolled out a make-shift line up and decided to swap the formation. Kovacic and Llorente would partner as double pivots in a 4-2-3-1 with Gareth Bale as the lone center forward. The team lacked ideas and structure while Gareth Bale has proved once again that he is simply not a striker. Not until the dying minutes of the game, did the team find urgency. Ultimately Espanyol deserved their goal and Madrid and Zidane only have themselves to blame for this loss.
Keylor Navas—8: The man from Costa Rica has been in phenomenal form since the PSG match and continue his good run tonight. His distribution with his feet has noticeably improved; hitting his targets and remaining calm under pressure. Navas was quick off his line and can take no blame in Espanyol’s goal.
Achraf Hakimi—6: One of the youngster’s better performances of the season. He broke pressure by drawing fouls, made crucial interceptions, and used his speed to burst down the right flank. Unfortunately, his crosses were still left wanting and failed to make contribute to the Madrid attack.
Raphael Varane—8: The best of the backline, how often has that been said this season. Made clearance after clearance, won six aerial duels between Moreno/Garcia, and has the ability to use his weak foot to distribute a long range pass and break pressure. Used his speed on countless occasions to bail Madrid out and end any Espanyol counter attack.
Sergio Ramos—7.5: Had three tackles, five interceptions, and one clearance. Was solid in the back, but was caught out a few times pressing the backline high. Fortunately for Ramos, Varane has the speed to cover and snuff out any counter.
Nacho—5.5: Not a poor game for the Spanish international, but far from otherworldly. Misplaced a number of passes when forced on to his usually reliable left foot. Failed to form a good connection with Asensio down the left flank and was unable to make a relevant impact on the Madrid attack. Battled well with Marc Navarro all evening.
Marcos Llorente—6.5: Llorente was solid, but unfortunately for him was placed in a system that did not showcase his strengths. Stuck to the right side of the field and distributed the ball well. Led the team in tackles with Mateo Kovacic, but would have been better placed as a single pivot in order to mitigate his offensive responsibility.
Mateo Kovacic—8: Led the team in tackles with seven, had the best passing accuracy at 93.7%, and had the most completed dribbles. The consistent game time has given Kovacic the opportunity to find rhythm and find his best form again.
Lucas Vazquez—5: After a run of incredible form, Lucas cooled off tonight. The team overall lacked the cutting edge and Lucas was unable to bring the usual danger from the right wing.
Marco Asensio—5: Marco’s performance was similar to that of Lucas Vazquez. With no true center forward, there was no one to make their runs off of or anyone to direct their crosses to when flying down the flanks.
Isco—4.5: Played as withdrawn striker in his preferred #10 role. He moved throughout the field in search of a reference (a center forward) to play off of, but instead stuck closer to the left wing with Bale and Asensio. With no true structure and no central reference, Isco and the team struggled.
Gareth Bale—4: A phenomenal player, but not a center forward. Zidane should end this experiment. Bale attempted to make some direct runs and beat the Espanyol backline with his pace, but was never found. He drifted more and more to the left wing and with no central striker, there were no goal threats to find when out on the wing.
Karim Benzema—4.5: The Frenchman was brought on to save the game. Unfortunately, Karim could not make the desired impact. He continually came deeper to find the ball, playing almost as a #10 when the team was crying out for a target forward to play off of and draw the Espanyol line out.
Dani Ceballos—4: Had some nice touches and always tirelessly runs to close down opponents. But, assumed that the defense would cover Moreno and got sucked to the ball and leaving Gerard Moreno free to volley home his 92nd minute goal.
Borja Mayoral—N/A: Played the final two minutes.
Zinedine Zidane—3: After gaining momentum, raising the team’s level, and distributing minutes well, Zidane lost the plot tonight. Playing Gareth Bale as a striker was a mistake and the Frenchman should have adjusted things at halftime. It seemed like one too many rotations tonight and the tactical structure was all wrong failing to give player with limited minutes clear roles.
MOTM: Mateo Kovacic