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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 2 - 0 Espanyol

Job done, but Mendy’s red card makes the left-back slot extra dicey for the next game against Valencia.

Real Madrid CF v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid beat Espanyol 2 - 0 (Varane, Benzema). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

An early kick-off. A Saturday matinee in which some sluggishness is almost expected. Real Madrid never went into full gear in today’s win against Espanyol — and to be sure, their passing was slack throughout — but they were efficient enough to get three points before the schedule takes a difficult twist next weekend.

I said this in the build-up to the game often: I’m always cautious of games against ‘smaller’ teams before the schedule gets tough, especially if those games tend to be early kick-offs. They can serve as banana peels. But against this Espanyol side — probably the de facto worst team in the league despite Leganes (who’ve played well under Aguirre despite not getting results) being below them? There was good reason to think Zidane’s men would get the job done either way.

Espanyol, to no real surprise, were a virtual zero on offense. The entire backline, starting with Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos who were solid all game, kept both Wu Lei and Jonathan Calleri (and eventually Victor Campuzano) in check all game, and in most cases, just bullying them off the ball. Ferland Mendy and Dani Caravajal were good defensively in ensuring Victor Perea and Sergi Darder don’t get a sniff through the flanks. Casemiro’s transition defending was noteworthy.

Espanyol’s best chance came off a high press in the first half, where they dispossessed Casemiro and came away with an open Esteban Granero header at the far post, which Courtois saved point blank.

Maybe a better team punish Real Madrid today, who weren’t entirely sharp offensively. But that’s a harsh critique on a performance from a team who worked hard and got three points. Zidane’s men could’ve created better chances had they opted for better passing out of the back to break Espanyol’s loose and permeable press while open outlets were available. But while the team didn’t create many clear-cut chances, they got into really good positions offensively, namely through Vinicius Jr’s performance on the left flank, where he was a consistent line-breaking presence with his dribbling, have a handful of great pass-and-move sequences, and should’ve ended up with one assist from his four key passes.

Karim Benzema, the man connecting the dots along with Vinicius, and the man who had a couple really sluggish passes in transition which hurt the team’s build-up, was also a chief creator. His through-ball found Varane to open the scoring in the first half:

Benzema also had a game-high six key passes to go along with a plethora of good chances. He finally converted in the second half, where he displayed some good touches on the edge of the box, found Fede Valverde ahead of him, and immediately moved to receive the ball back from the Uruguayan to make it 2 - 0.

Unfortunately, this game ended on a sour note, with Ferland Mendy picking up his second yellow — rendering him unavailable for the Valencia match. That’s not ideal, with Marcelo injured and all.

We’ll break this down in much more detail in the coming hours.

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